Two websites. One easy way to review language.

Criss cross puzzleAs I wrote a little while ago, I like to use little pieces of paper to focus on and record the relevant language in ESOL sessions. Once focused on and recorded, that language needs to be reviewed – in class, but also, ideally, by learners between sessions.

I can do things in class at the end of a session and in future ones and language often gets recycled quite naturally too. Getting the learners to review, notice and use the language between sessions is more of a challenge and I’m currently thinking about new ways to encourage learners with busy and tiring lives to do this. The reading group has been useful but I’d like to add aspects to focus more on language they read and hear in their own time. One of the first things I’ll try is asking them to find a word, a phrase and a sentence as Anna Pires suggests in a recent post.

But more about that another time. This post is really just to share something I’ve found to be a very simple, quick and quite effective way to produce material to highlight, review and push learners to recall new lexical items as well as to add a bit of variety, with the help of two very useful websites:

Discovery Education Puzzlemaker

Macmillan Dictionary

From the Discover Education Puzzlemaker page, choose to make a Criss-cross puzzle. Then with a selection of the most useful words from previous sessions, and the clear definitions from the Macmillan Dictionary, make your puzzle and print it out.

It takes minutes to prepare but the learners usually really enjoy the challenge and the fact that it is based around words from their stories and experiences. I did it most recently with a group where I want to encourage better recording and reviewing of language. This is a first step. I also made sure that learners all had a vocabulary notebook and next week, I’ll start to discuss how learners use these and will be referring to Kathy Fagan’s recent post on vocabulary notebooks and the book she’s just finished reading.

As well as learners completing the puzzle, checking answers also provides opportunities to recall the context in which it was originally used to ensure the meaning is clear and to consider other contexts of use and other words they can be used with. (See Leo Selivan’s post on In context or with co-text?)

When published materials, as good as many of them are, just don’t quite fit the learners and language we’re working with, it’s useful to know of easy and quick ways to add variety and to review and extend language knowledge. This, I think, is one of them.

The Power of the Post-it Note

(Other sticky notes are available. They’re just not as alliterative!)

Post-it notes

Photo taken from by @vickyloras, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

When I first used sticky notes to help a learner get started with a piece of writing, the effectiveness of such a simple activity was clear. After we’d finished, that first learner said,

“I never thought I could write an essay, but now I feel I could write a book!”

The idea is not new but it’s simple and effective: write down each of the points you want to include in your writing on a separate note, then arrange them in the order you want to write about them. If possible, it’s good to have different colours, as demonstrated by Vicky Loras’s photo above 😉

As learners get going, the ideas come flowing out. Very quickly, they go from not knowing what to say or how to get started to not only having plenty of ideas but also to knowing what order they’re going to write about them, and to believing they can approach the writing in manageable stages.

I love using this with learners! It’s very motivating, engaging and empowering. I’m really not exaggerating!

Most recently, we’ve been using it with adults with learning disabilities. By using sticky notes to collect and organise ideas, the learners have realised just how much they have to say about a particular topic. They feel much more able to make decisions about what to include or what to leave out – it’s easy to add or remove a note – and they are more confident about being able to expand on these ideas. They are more focused and committed to the activity… and they enjoy it!

As I’ve mentioned, this isn’t a new idea and many of you will have done something similar with learners or in your own writing. Many will have other ways for organising and planning. I just wanted to pass on a bit of my experience of using it with literacies learners and people with learning disabilities. I think it would be particularly useful for people who find getting started difficult, who struggle to get the ideas spinning around their head out on to the paper, or who get overwhelmed with the work ahead of them.

What I know about …

… I could write on the back of a stamp!

This is just a quick post to share one of my favourite getting-to-know-you activities which always seems to work well. I’ve found that it helps create a relaxed and interested atmosphere and it’s a great way for learners to start getting to know each other… and me them!

I first found it in a publication called Try it: it works! put out by SATEFL in 2000 and edited by Anne Lawrie. It’s a collection of activities contributed by the SATEFL members. This activity came from Kathleen McMillan.

Very briefly, and slightly adapted from the original, it goes like this…

You’ll need copies of postage stamps, or stamps cut from envelopes if you have any. [NB: You’ll have to use this activity while people still know what stamps are!]

Introduce the saying, “What I know about [cars/football/trainspotting] I could write on a stamp!” and check the meaning.

Discuss just how much could actually be recorded on a stamp and how many pieces of information they think they could record about their partner on a stamp.

Handout a stamp to each learner. (In my experience, this is when learners perk up, become interested, and smile!)

Agree a minimum target number of pieces of information (10, 15, 20) and then ask learners to find out about their partner and record everything (as much as they can) on the back of the stamp.

Let the discussion run as long as you think is appropriate. In the book, a time limit is suggested but I’m inclined to let it run as long as there’s good discussion going on. One of my main aims with this activity is for people to have the chance to get to know each other and to start to feel comfortable in each other’s company. It’s also a great opportunity for me to get a better feel for who the learners are, what they can do, what they seem interested in to use in planning future sessions.

Learners can then introduce their partner to the group or to another pair. Be sure to see who managed to get the most pieces of information onto their stamp!

The idea of writing on such a small area seems to create a bit of a buzz – a challenge. Also, learners continue thinking of things to ask their partner as long as they can fit more on the stamp and so they uncover interesting things about each other. Of course, it’s always a good idea to remind learners that they don’t have to answer any question that they don’t want to for any reason and discuss strategies for doing so.

I use this with new groups and also when new batches of learners join an existing group. Because the second scenario is more common where I am, I need to have a few favourite getting-to-know-you activities, but as I haven’t seen this one written about elsewhere I thought I’d pass it on!


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