Monday, 24 September 2012

Assessing learners vocabulary and sequencing skills

I started teaching last week after a relaxing summer break and time in the office to plan classes.

The first week has gone really well and I'm already getting to know my students and their strengths and weaknesses. We use the first 4 weeks of the academic year to assess our students and diagnose any areas of their language usage that need work. We will be using these diagnostic tests to establish if students are in the right classes and what their learning goals should be.

I like to make the diagnostic tools un-intimidating and informal. Today I'd like to share one of my favourite tools.

I start session one of the academic year with a classic icebreaker. All you need is a juggling ball, some students and a few brain cells. The activity requires students to throw, underarm, a juggling ball between each other. The steps are as follows;

  1. Decide any rules - no throwing over arm, put one hand behind your back or sit down if you get it wrong etc
  2. Say your name and throw the ball to another person in the class.
  3. Say someone else's name and throw the ball to them.
  4. Say a day of the week and throw the ball to someone else, they must then say the next day of the week.
  5. Say the days of the week, as before, but in reverse order.
  6. Say a month of the year and  throw the ball to someone else, they must then say the next month is sequence.
  7. Step 5 but with months.
  8. You could do extensions requiring students to say students names in alphabetical order at higher levels (Entry 3 / Level 1)
I find this icebreaker to be really simple but effective. Students learn each other's names and they also produce the language you want to assess.

After this activity we complete this activity using a smart board. 

Time vocabulary

In ActivInspire the students can drag the words to the correct categories and the words stay in position if they are correct. The file above is printable and can be used as a worksheet.

Monitoring how the students complete the activity, how long it takes and if they can sequence correctly tells you a lot about a students skills. Sitting with students who struggle, of due to a lack of sight vocabulary, you can also see if students can make progress with help or if there is some block.

In session 3 I do a spelling test of the Time vocabulary and give contextual clues.

For example:

  1. What day is it today?
  2. Which month was Ramadan?
  3. How many hours in a day?
  4. Which month is after Spring?
I award one point for a correct answer and another point for the correct spelling. All of these soft assessment techniques are easy to deliver and provide me with lots of information about students skills.

What do you do in your classes to assess your students? I'll be sharing some more ideas soon.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Parallel lives

Have you seen the recent John Lewis advert? It shows a couple in split screen living parallel lives but living 90 years apart. (1920's and present day)
It would make a good resource for any of the following; present continuous, past continuous, past simple and freetime activities.
I invite you to take a look at this article on the daily mail website which also has the video and them add to my list of suggestions.

Link to article and video.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Alphabet Cards - ESOL Diagnostic

Alphabet Cards

Over the last few years I have been developing this tool for informally testing students' knowledge of the English alphabet. It is also a good indicator of their visual literacy, memory skills and sequencing skills.

First share this PowerPoint with your class


I use this PowerPoint to introduce or consolidate the classes' knowledge of the alphabet. I use the pictures as prompts and then explore other words with similar sounds or spellings. The pictures were chosen to give an element of discussion around each image. For example the picture of eggs is often misinterpreted but I then ask who has eggs for breakfast, who likes eggs and also which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This PowerPoint can take over an hour if the class is engaged properly. It's worth refering back to the images as you work through as the students need to try and remember them when they take part in the assessment.

Making the Alphabet Cards

Depending on how much time you have you may want to get the students to make the cards. There are 2 things to keep in mind. The first is that you need to encourage students to check that the cards match up when they stick the 2 A4 pages back to back. This is essential if you want to avoid cutting some letters or pictures in half. The second thing to consider is lamination. I've found that students love laminating. Each card needs to be placed seperately into the laminating plastic so that they are individually sealed. The first time I made these I put the whole page in, laminated it and then cut up the cards. The plastic needed seloptaping as the cards fell apart.

The file is designed so that if you want to change an image it is really easy. You could also change the font if you wanted to.

How do you use these cards in the classroom?

There are a number of ways you can use the cards in the class room.

  1. Place the cards, with the letters facing upwards, on a flat surface (e.g. table or floor) and arrange them in alphabetical order. Rows of 5 or 6 cards work best.
  2. Pelmanism - with the cards still facing upwards, students take it in turns to predict the picture on the opposite side of the cards. If they are correct the score a point or take one of the cards. If they are incorrect they must leave it letter facing up and come back to it once they've tried all the other cards.
  3. The Pelmanism activity can be repeated a number of times.
  4. With the pictures facing up students mix the cards and then try to place them in alphabetical order. Some students find this very challenging while others can do it quite quickly. This will highlight to you which students have stong visual memory (some might talk about learning styles but I'm not really a fan...) or those who were paying attention during the PowerPoint.
  5. Finally with the pictures facing up the students can work backwards throught the cards, predicting the letter of the alphabet on the opposite side.
  6. You could work on phonetics as well as letter names but you may want to change some of the pictures in the cards file above.

Stop-motion video to demonstrate the cards and how they can be used

I've been a fan of stop-motion films for a while, so I decided to have a go at making one to show how these cards can be used. Any comments are most welcome.


It is very important for me that I pick up on errors that students make when doing the activities above. I observe learners and make notes on their sequencing skills, memory skills and "sticking points".

There are often similarities amongst nationality groups and it may be worth considering pairing students from the same nationalities so that you can work on particular letters.

Students really enjoy this session and often don't realise they are being assessed until you sit with them and give them some feedback.

I find transfering these skills to alphabetical order exercises can be very rewarding too. Often a student can't tell you what letter is next in a sequence but if you ask them what picture was after tiger they know it was umbrella!


If you can think of any other activities that you could do, using these cards, then why not leave a comment below. I like to do spelling tests, get students to write sentences including one or more of the words and I come back to the sequence of pictures throughout the first term to consolidate the learning that takes place.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Host a mini-Olympics to celebrate the International Diversity of your language school.

Host a mini-Olympics to celebrate the International Diversity of your language school.

The Olympic Torch is coming to Leeds on Sunday. To celebrate we are having our own “mini-Olympics” on the 26th of June.

Map created by Entry 2 ESOL student using BBC website as a template.

There is not much time but we are considering having an Opening Ceremony. There are a few key moments that will make great photo opportunities and will also give a chance to capture the diversity of the students; Flag procession, dancing, music... This idea is still on the drawing board.

So far we have selected a range of sports:

•100m running race

•Long distance running race (e.g. 5 laps of the football pitch)

•Water bomb shot-put

•Water pistol marksman

•Standing jump

•3-legged race

•How many marshmallows can you fit in your mouth?

•Drinking straw javelin



•Table tennis


•Paper plate discus

•Basketball shoot-out

•5 a-side football

•Apple bobbing


Risk Assessments will need to take place.

Some sports and activities will be on a drop-in basis, others will need teams to be finalised prior to the event.

Work is now underway to allocate students to different events – they can opt in to events by signing their names on lists.

See the document below for a simple idea on how to recruit competitors. It could do with a few images to make it more attractive but that's a task for one of my students!

Finally some kind of awards ceremony, also coordinated with end of year awards, will take place.


If you are planning an event, please get in touch via the comments box and we can share ideas. Any other suggestions for activities or sports are most welcome.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Need Inspiration for Planning a Diamond Jubilee Event?

Preparing for a Diamond Jubilee Event

Example of resources used:

My Entry 2 class have been working very hard, preparing for a Diamond Jubilee Party on the 31st of May.

I've created a Scribd Collection (which you can find here which is full of posters (60 decades activity, Royal Family Tree and many more).

Here are a few simple things you should considering if you are planning to have an event to celebrate the Jubilee.

  • If you can, ask for donations from students to pay for cutlery, plates, bowls and serving bowls, tablecloths, cups, rubbish bags, etc.
  • Do the necessary paperwork, Risk Assessments, invitations, posters.
  • Create job descriptions for a class or volunteers and designate jobs - site management (rubbish, people flow, queue meet & greet if you want to control initial influx of people), food servers, hosts, activity supervisors.
  • Involve students in everything, ownership = a good party.
  • Have a raffle, best dressed queen / king, man / woman with prizes.
  • Have games like pin the tail on the Corgi.
  • Invite students to bring in food to share - celebrate the cultural cuisine by labelling with flags / descriptions. Servers to explain to people what there is.
  • Create a world map (like the one below) and use it as a focal point to record student population densities (Why not create Excel spreadsheet during the day and display pie chart?) 

Any other ideas are welcome!

Here's a collection of pictures taken during the preparation stages.

 I will write more about this soon,

Look out for resources and information about hosting an Olympic Torch event, an Olympic Event and a Closing Ceremony!

With this post I hope to embrace the Olympic spirit of Inspiration, if you are inspired to do something, please add resources to my Scribd page and comment on this post and my videos.

All Diamonds are bits of coal, under the right circumstances. Try to make sure it isn't too high pressure and enjoy yourself responsibly!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Create a Giant World Map on a Wall

This morning I woke up at 6:30 and was in at work at 7.

No, it wasn't for OFSTED!

Yesterday I got permission to draw a world map on a wall in the building where I work.

Shortly after I got permission I also received a Risk Assessment form and was asked to write a Method Statement.

As you can see, in the video below, the final image was drawn on the wall with a permanent marker pen. The risk was very low. If I had slipped and fallen on my pencil I might have hurt myself.

I completed the Risk Assessment anyway as I have realised; there's no point getting annoyed by perceived barriers - as soon as you've crossed them, they seem insignificant.

So why did I want to put a World Map on a wall in the college where I work?

  • I work with the migrant community and wanted to create a piece of art that represented them
  • I plan to map out the student nationality densities, using circles of growing diameter to reflect populations
  • My colleagues and I can use it in class time to provoke discussion about where people are from
  • I wanted to draw on a wall at the place I work in

The video is intended to serve as inspiration for others to try and do something similar. In this Olympic year there is an opportunity to promote Diversity. ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) reflects the coming together of people from all nations who are united in a common purpose - realising their potential.

If you are inspired to have a go, please leave a comment or even make a video and reply to this video with your own effort!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Redefining Research - InfoGraphic

Is Wikipedia becoming the most popular website for students to find out information?

This InfoGraphic uses crisp images and text that are infromative and to the point.

It certainly presents a strong case for how students are moving from paper to technology in a quest to seek out information. As the graphic suggests, more and more educators are beginning to recognise Wikipedia as a reputable source of 'facts'.

Personally I'm sad to read the Encyclopedia Britannica is going out of print. However, it does seem that Wikipedia are making the right developments to make their site more reliable, accurate and quotable (Academically).

Only time will tell as to how educators will react to these developments. It certainly seems that the days of researching in the Library are becoming less popular. Virtual libraries in students' living rooms are understandably far more popular.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Do you work with low literacy esol students?
Have you tried using video to present new topics or themes to your students?

If you are looking for inspiring tutor-generated resources and ideas then you should visit, a new website that offers creative approaches to a range of language forms.

Whether you visit the site and come away with ideas for a cracking lesson or you feel inspired to have a go at making your own videos; this website its well worth a visit.

Jennie has used a website generator to create a fun, interactive experience that guides tutors and students through language and learning. There are also resources that you can download and use in the classroom.

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