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  • A group of children sat in a park high fiving each other
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    Back to school: 5 team building activities to help break down boundaries

    By Anna Roslaniec

    At the beginning of term adolescent learners are often shy, embarrassed and awkward. They are reluctant to speak English in front of their peers or show enthusiasm in class, often suffering from social pressure and lack of self-confidence. It can take weeks or months for students to get to know each other and form bonds. However, don’t despair if your teen learners are like this. There are plenty of team-building games and activities you can do to help students build relationships that will allow them to feel comfortable and relaxed in the classroom.

  • A teacher stood in front of a classroom of students sat at their desks
    • Language teaching
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    5 ways to deal with mixed ability students in secondary classes

    By Anna Roslaniec

    No two teenagers are the same. Within all of our classes there tends to be not only a range of English proficiency levels, but also general learning styles, maturity, motivation, and personalities. This diversity can bring some challenges, but also opportunities to vary your classroom activities and teaching methodology.

    Here are some ways to help deal with mixed-ability classes and ensure all your students experience success in their language learning journeys.


  • A girl holding a pile of books smiling in a room with large sheves of books.
    • Language teaching
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    How to bring Shakespeare to life in the classroom

    By Anna Roslaniec

    The 23rd of April marks the birth (and death) of William Shakespeare: poet, playwright and pre-eminent dramatist. His poems and plays have been translated into 80 languages, even Esperanto and Klingon.

    It is remarkable how Shakespeare’s iconic body of work has withstood the test of time. More than four centuries on, his reflections on the human condition have lost none of their relevance. Contemporary artists and writers continue to draw on his language, imagery and drama for inspiration.

    But, despite the breadth and longevity of his appeal, getting students excited about Shakespeare is not always straightforward. The language is challenging, the characters may be unfamiliar and the plots can seem far removed from modern life.

    However, with the right methods and resources, there is plenty for teenagers and young adults to engage with. After all, love, desperation, jealousy and anger are feelings we can all relate to, regardless of the age group, culture or century we belong to!
    So, how can you bring classic Shakespearean dramas like Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth to life?

    There are many ways for your learners to connect with Shakespeare and get excited by his works. Here we’ll show you three classroom activities to do with your students and some indispensable resources to ensure that reading Shakespeare is as accessible and enjoyable as possible!


  • A group of young people sat at a table discussing with a woman stood up
    • Teaching trends and techniques

    How to get teenagers to think critically

    By Anna Roslaniec

    Critical thinking is a 21st century skill that has been around for thousands of years. There are records of Socrates using critical thinking skills in his teaching in 4th century BC Greece. In recent years though, critical thinking has again become more prominent in education.

    What is critical thinking?

    Critical thinking requires students to do more than remember and repeat information. Instead, it encourages them to analyze, examine, evaluate and use their problem-solving abilities through questioning, theorizing and rationalizing to have a deeper understanding of the world around them, both inside the classroom and beyond.

    Why is critical thinking so important?

    In the past, success in education was largely based on the ability to remember facts and figures. However, the skills which our students need today go further than memorization. With our rapidly evolving technology, the internet, and the bewildering amount of information online, it is essential that our students can use higher-order thinking skills to analyze and assess the information they are presented with.

    How can you incorporate critical thinking into your classes?

    Devising long-term goals

    We all know the importance of looking ahead and planning for the future. We can encourage this skill in our students and directly relate it to their learning.

    At the start of the course, take a moment to chat with each student individually and ask them to identify an objective for the first part of the year. You may like to brainstorm possible objectives as a class first, but it’s important for students to determine their own personal objectives, rather than imposing objectives on them.

    During the first half of the year you can talk to each student about their progress and ask them to assess to what extent they’re achieving their goals.

    The key point comes at the end of the semester when students evaluate their progress and set a new objective for the following one.


    The ability to analyze options, risks and opinions will help your students in the future in many situations, including when they decide which course to take at university or which job to take.

    You can practice this skill by providing students with relatable situations and asking them to analyze and compare the options.

    For example:

    Imagine you are taking a trip with some friends this summer. You have a number of different options and want to discuss them before finalizing your plans. Talk to a partner about the different trips and decide which would be best:

    • Traveling around Europe by train for a month ($1,000)
    • A weekend hiking and camping in the countryside ($200)
    • A weekend break in a big city, with shopping, sightseeing and museum trips ($500)
    • A week-long trip to the beach in an all-inclusive resort ($650)

    Anticipating consequences

    Students also need to have an awareness of the consequences of their actions; this is a skill which is transferable to making business decisions, as well as being important in their everyday lives.

    To practice this skill, put students into small groups and give them the first part of a conditional sentence. One student completes the sentence and then the next student adds a consequence to that statement.

    For example:

    Student A: If I don’t study for my English exam, I won’t pass.

    Student B: If I don’t pass my English exam, my parents won’t let me go out this weekend.

    Student C: If I can’t go out this weekend, I’ll miss the big football match.

    Student D: My coach won’t let me play next year if I miss the big match.

    Rearranging the class menu

    By giving students more responsibility and having them feel invested in the development of the lesson, they will be much more motivated to participate in the class.

    Occasionally, let students discuss the content of the day’s class. Give them a list of tasks for the day, including how long each will take and allow them to discuss the order in which they’ll complete them. For larger classes, first have them do it in pairs or small groups and then vote as a whole class.

    Write on the board:

    • Class discussion (5 minutes)

    The following tasks can be done in the order you decide as a class. You have five minutes to discuss and arrange the tasks as you choose. Write them on the board in order when you’re ready.

    • Check homework (5 minutes)
    • Vocabulary review (10 minutes)
    • Vocabulary game (5 minutes)
    • Reading activity (15 minutes)
    • Grammar review game (5 minutes)
    • Speaking activity (10 minutes)

    Take this one step further by asking your students to rate each activity out of 10 at the end of the class. That way, you’ll easily see which tasks they enjoy, helping you plan more engaging lessons in the future.

  • four children in a library smiling and pointing to a open book on a desk

    7 reading strategies for primary and secondary

    By Anna Roslaniec

    Reading can transport students to new places, immerse them in incredible adventures and teach them more about the amazing world around them.

    What’s more, in today’s globalized world our students are exposed to written English more and more every day. It’s essential they have the skills needed to be successful in this environment. Many students are also going on to study in English at university and require a number of academic reading skills.

    It’s important you work on these areas in class to prepare learners for their future. Here are seven reading strategies to get you started including tips for both primary and secondary teachers.

    1. Predicting what’s to come

    Even before students start reading, we can use extra information on the page to get them thinking about the ideas and vocabulary they will find in the text. This encourages them to consider what they may already know about the topic. And, by adding an element of competition, we can also use it as a strategy to motivate them to read.

    Divide the class into teams and write the title of the text on the board. Have them work in their teams and write ten words they predict will be in the text, based on the title.

    After a few minutes, have teams swap lists and, as they read the text, check the words the other team correctly predicted.

    If you are teaching primary, you can do the same activity using any images which accompany the text. Have students describe the image in pairs first and then work in teams to predict the article's content, as above.

    2. Summarizing

    This strategy can focus on both the general idea of the text (the gist), and the most important details within it.

    To work on using summarizing for gist, give students a text and three short summaries of it, no longer than a sentence each. After students scan the text once, have them choose which of the three summaries best matches the general idea of the text.

    Then, to practice these skills, have them work in pairs to produce a summary of the text they just read. This summary should be approximately one-fifth the length of the original text.

    This not only encourages students to identify the text's main points but also requires them to use paraphrasing skills to put the ideas into their own words.

    Note that primary learners may need your support to create a summary. It’s a good idea to create a gapped text which they can complete with the keywords of the text. This will also help build their vocabulary.

    3. Identifying topic sentences

    Whether your students are reading for gist or detail, a topic sentence can give them the necessary information. Topic sentences are found at the start of a paragraph and are frequently used in articles and academic research to give the reader the main idea of what is to come. If you are unsure what a topic sentence looks like, the first sentence of this paragraph is an example!

    One idea to introduce students to the idea of topic sentences is to find a text with four or five paragraphs and remove the topic sentence from each.

    Give the students the gapped text and the topic sentences and have them match each sentence to the correct paragraph. This will highlight how topic sentences provide a summary of the main idea of each paragraph.

    This can be an effective task for both primary and secondary students, though it’s likely that primary students will be working with shorter texts. If you have a text with only three paragraphs, you can write a couple of distractor sentences to make the activity more challenging.

    4. Comparing and contrasting

    As with any aspect of language learning, if students can create a personal connection to the content, they will be more engaged and more likely to remember the information.

    We can use compare and contrast questions with any text. For example, for texts which tell a personal story, we can ask:

    • How are you similar or different to this person?
    • What would you do in that situation?

    For texts which talk about a particular issue, we can ask:

    • Do you think this is a problem in your country?
    • What would you do in this situation?

    Students of any age should be allowed to reflect on their learning and have the chance to empathize with the people and situations they read about. Even for younger learners, questions can be graded to their level to allow them to compare their experiences to the content of the text.

    5. Understanding numbers

    Non-fiction texts often include a lot of facts and figures and it’s important that students are able to understand what these numbers mean so they can really understand the text.

    Our younger learners might need help appreciating long distances or large quantities, so providing them with something more tangible can help them greatly.

    When working with distances and sizes, try to use familiar locations, such as the length of the school playground or the area of the classroom, and compare these locations to the measurement in the text.

    Similarly with quantities, find something which students can relate to easily. For example, if a text talks about the number of people, compare that amount to the number of students in the class.

    6. Working with vocabulary

    Teaching students how to use a dictionary is important, but it’s also essential that students can use other skills to understand new words when they can’t reach for a dictionary.

    As teachers, it’s important for us to identify the keywords in a text which we want students to remember and use after the lesson. You may choose to pre-teach this vocabulary so that students can approach the reading with a good understanding of the key lexis.

    However, there may be times when you want students to predict the meaning – of key and subsidiary vocabulary – from the context. It’s helpful to teach students to read around unfamiliar words as this helps them to identify the type of word it is (noun, verb, adjective, and so on), which helps them understand a particular word’s meaning within a sentence.

    7. Separating fact and opinion

    While many texts our students read are factual, there will be times when they also need to distinguish between fact and opinion.

    Sometimes, we can infer the writer’s attitude towards a topic by looking at the type of language they use and identifying whether words are neutral, or if they give us clues as to the writer’s opinion. This can be a difficult distinction for our students to make but we can do activities with the students to raise their awareness.

    Take a subject students are likely to have different opinions about, such as a famous footballer. Ask the students to tell you about that person, then categorize the words they give you as to whether they provide a fact or an opinion. Words such as tall, Brazilian and blue eyes would be facts about the player. Whereas amazing, stupid or the best player ever would show their opinion.

  • A teacher standing over a desk where a student is sat, helping them. Students are also sat at desks in the background
    • Language teaching

    4 key challenges in secondary education

    By Anna Roslaniec

    Let’s examine four of the most common challenges secondary teachers have and look into some strategies to help solve them.

    1. My students are afraid of making mistakes

    You’re not alone! Many teachers say their teenage students are quiet and unwilling to answer questions in class. Sometimes, this might simply be because they don’t know the answers, but more often than not, they are nervous about making mistakes.

    When children grow into teenagers, they tend to become more self-conscious and worried about what their peers think of them – and making mistakes in public is a big no-no for them. However, there are several ways to facilitate a safe learning environment where your students are happy and willing to talk. Sometimes, though, it takes a little experimentation. Here are some things you can try:

    Celebrate mistakes

    When students make mistakes, ensure that you praise them for taking a risk or making an effort. Correct their errors and be clear with the rest of the class that the only way to learn is to try new things.

    Be firm

    Don’t tolerate any bullying or laughing when someone gets an answer wrong. If your students fear that others will mock them for their efforts, they’ll stay quiet. So make sure you have clear rules and that your students understand that mistakes are normal and to be expected.

    Have students discuss their answers in pairs or groups

    If your students are painfully shy and afraid of making mistakes, avoid picking on individuals to answer questions in front of the class. Instead, when asking a question, tell your students to discuss it in pairs or small groups first. This will allow them to formulate their ideas and feel more confident. Afterwards, you can ask the pairs to share what they discussed – leading to a natural open-class discussion.

    Listen to your students

    Another, powerful way of engaging your students in discussion is to listen to a conversation they are having with their partners and then express how impressed you are with their ideas during a feedback session. E.g. “You said X, which I thought was very interesting. Could you explain this to the class? It was a great idea.” This gives them the confidence to share their thoughts.

    2. My students are not engaged with the activities I choose

    This is another very common problem for teachers of teenagers. You spend a lot of time thinking of fun, interesting activities – then, when you present them to the class, your students look away and say they’re bored. Soon enough, you’ll get frustrated and not know how to re-engage them. Here are some ideas to help:

    Get to know your students

    Without fail, the best way to engage your students is by getting to know them as individuals over the year. Find out about their hobbies and interests outside of school, and learn what makes them laugh and what worries them. Use your knowledge of your students to find interesting books to read, videos to watch, or relevant subjects to discuss. This way, you’ll deliver tailored lessons your students find truly interesting and useful.

    Allow a degree of autonomy

    Sometimes quietness is also a sign of disengagement with the learning materials. To get past this obstacle, you can get your students to brainstorm things that interest them in groups, list them on the board and have a class vote on the topic of their next class project. As a teacher, you always have the power to veto inappropriate ideas, but giving students a voice is a powerful way of making them feel valued and involved in their own education.

    Make things (a little) competitive

    Even teenagers love games! And play is an integral part of learning, as it allows our students to be themselves, have fun, and communicate freely at the same time. By allowing them to play language-focused games in class, they’ll soon forget their inhibitions and start talking.

    3. My students just want to do grammar exercises

    Language is all about communication, speaking, listening, reading and writing – yet all your students want to do is grammar exercises. Frustrating as this is, it’s probably a sign that our students are not confident in their speaking or listening abilities. Here’s what you can do:

    Encourage free language practice

    Grammar activities are very structured and there is often a clear answer. Day-to-day communications, however, are much freer, which can intimidate less confident students. This activity will help you combine the two aspects of language learning:

    • Put students in small groups and give them a set of cards with exciting topics printed on them—for example; music, sports, environment, school, vacations, friends, food.
    • Tell students that they should each choose a card and speak freely about their topic for 30 seconds – the short time will help them overcome their fear of speaking and can be gradually increased as they get used to this type of activity.
    • Have students record themselves when they are speaking and then, when they listen back, have them identify the grammatical structures they used.

    They should write down and correct any mistakes under your guidance. Not only will this get students used to talking and encourage a lot of emergent language, but it will also help them feel they are practicing grammar.

    If your students really enjoy learning grammar, you can ‘flip’ your grammar activities and make them more communicative. First, provide them with a series of sentences or listening clips which have a common grammatical structure (second conditional sentences, for example).

    Then have students work together (in English) to identify how the language is structured, so they can discover the grammar point for themselves. This not only gets them talking, but they are doing something they feel confident at.

    4. My students are bored of all the repetition

    Repetition is an important part of language learning. By practicing things over and over again, your students will come to understand it better and will be able to produce the language more easily. However, repetition is often quite dull, especially for fast learners. Here’s how you can make things more interesting for your teenage students:

    Use a greater variety of activities to engage your learners

    If you’ve been teaching your students a particular set of vocabulary, a grammatical structure, or some pronunciation rules, think about how else they can practice them.

    For example, instead of drilling pronunciation over and over again, ask students to think of all the words they can think of that have the same sound in them (e.g. book, look, cook, shook, etc.). This will help them ‘hear’ the sounds in their heads and improve their understanding of other words.

    If you have been learning vocabulary through reading, have students write or tell stories that incorporate the words.

    The idea is not to stop repeating the target language or skill, but to practice it in different ways. Apply this principle to other areas of language learning so your students won’t feel like they are repeating things.