Lesson Kit 2: Cup stacking

This post provides some items that one could use to construct a lesson or activity based on the following video:

h/t Dr. Alec Couros ‏@courosa

This is more a lesson idea than a kit like the last Star Wars puns. But since I have not done another kit, a kit it shall be.

As I was teaching a module on understanding numerical information I used some numbers from the video as a pre-viewing activity.

1. Ask how are the following numbers related?:

1.786s    (world record for fastest time)

622809 people (world record for most people stacking at same time)

5.3s (time journalist achieved)

A frequent response from students here was the rate of births and deaths. (Instead of numbers you could ask say how the following are related – cups, 3-6-3, California)

2. Then ask which of the following is a (Junior) Olympic sport:

Jump rope

Sport/cup stacking

Baton twirling

They are all (Junior) Olympic Sports. Some time may be spent on discussing what these sports are exactly.

3. Next ask students which of these sports are related to the numbers mentioned initially.

4. Tell them the first time they watch the video to not make any notes but simply be prepared to give a reaction/comment.

5. The second time to take notes and invent some questions to ask their classmates.

6. Play for a third time depending on level of your students. Another option is to split the video at about the 4min mark before the part on the specific techniques. And get students to ask questions based on information up to this mark.

Possible vocabulary queries may include what P.E. means (physical education).

Some questions to prompt class if they are feeling taciturn:

What may be problematic for the future of the sport?

When and where did the sport originate?

What features of the cups are mentioned?

What is a scratch?

What is the most frequent pattern?

What do the numbers presented at the beginning refer to exactly?

What is merch short for?

One class wit came up with – When was this form of mental illness discovered : /)

There is an opportunity here for opinion sharing on what makes a sport.

7. As a second stage you can get students to work on some bottom-up listening skills by running the video URL through TubeQuizard.


Click image to go to exercises.

Thanks for reading, hope the video gives you further ideas which I would love to hear about.


Lesson Kit 1: Star Wars puns

This post provides some items that one could use to construct a lesson or activity based on the following video:

h/t John Spencer ‏@spencerideas.

The kit includes a bingo pdf (generated from http://print-bingo.com/) and a docx of the relevant puns.

One idea is to test listening skills via the bingo card (columns L and A are the winning columns), further work could be done on explaining the first three/four puns in the text file.
Another thing to do is use phonetically transcribed word in bingo card.

Do let me know of other things that could be done.

Hope this is a lesson kit you are looking for : )


Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qslJQUMc9yA


Click to access star-wars-bingo.pdf


Easy micro-listenings

John Field has made the case for micro-listenings which are “examples of the same word/phrases in different voices and contexts” (John Field 2013, New directions in second language listening:rethinking the Comprehension Approach presentation, slide 13) that can be replayed easily.

Such listenings helps to develop a learner’s decoding skills. These micro-listenings can be embedded into a task that includes say transcription exercises.

An easy way to get such micro-listenings automatically is to use Videogrep. This tool allows you to search a subtitle file for a word, a grammatical form or hypernym and then able to make a new super cut/edited video containing your search word/grammatical form/hypernym.

I have a 1-to-1 adult student who is keen on motorbikes and wants to see a documentary film of the Isle of Man TT races called TT3D – Closer to the edge (yeah can u dig it, get your motor running, headout on…ah um back to post). He has yet to see it due to lack of time so as a way to take advantage of this interest I created a supercut video using Videogrep.

I initially fed the subtitle file into AntWordProfiler to see what word I could cut, I wanted one that was in the 1st 1000 of the GSL (general service list) but  that did not have  too many hits so get although very interesting (and I may well use that later) had 512 hits so was way too many for a micro-listen. Looking down the list I noticed set with 9 hits. I had read somewhere that set has the most meanings of any word in English.

Anyway this seemed ideal so here is the super cut of set:

Notice we have examples of upset, upsetting, settle so a great way to see if my student can distinguish these from the other uses.

Field recommends a task approach so one can set the instruction before first listen as: The clips have something in common what is it? and then before the subsequent listens one asks the student to transcribe what uses of set they hear.

I’ll report back here how the student got on when I can.

If you want, check out some more examples that includes a search for adjective-noun grammar forms  and the word well in Big Bang Theory episodes.

Thanks for reading.

Update 1:

The two students I have used #videogrep-ed micro-listenings with liked them a lot. There were some issues about difficulty of transcribing some of the clips which could put off less hardy souls.

Some notes on using videogrep – you can use regular expressions or regex to tighten up searches so for example if I just wanted uses of set and not upset, upsetting, settle I would use \bset as the search term where \b is the regex for word boundary. Here is a list of regexes though I have yet to have a use for anything other than \b so far – http://www.pyregex.com/.

Also you will find you need to expand some clips which are cut early so add the command --padding and a number measured in milliseconds so for example --padding 500 would pad out the beginning and ends of clips by 500ms.

Update 2:

There is an (experimental) graphical interface version for the Apple OSX (103MB) useful for those not comfortable with using command line.

Social media gifts

I hope everyone enjoyed their Xmas break and their gifts – the physical, psychological and social. And that everyone is having a good first week back (if you are back, if not lucky you!).

This time some two years or more ago I would have been in much more of a panic due to having to come up with some interesting lessons. Now with the gift of social media I am able to rely on teachers around the world sharing great ideas.


The first resource I leant on was the #flashmobELT. I used the Tag It activity posted by Anna Loseva/ ‏@AnnLoseva. The way I used it was to write on the board 3 tags that described three events of my Xmas holiday:


The students were asked to question me to find out the meanings of the tags.
(scroll to end for the meanings).

The students then did this in pairs themselves, with me highlighting the need to probe for any details, once finished they told me what they had discovered about their partner’s Xmas break.

The engagement in the activity was very noticeable, I also rounded up some typical language errors that stood out.

This is a very simple setup that can work with a number of language points. Although the activity itself is not new, the way it was framed by Anna as tags gives it a contemporary feel which my students easily recognized. Recommended!

An Idea a day – Brrr

The next resource I used was provided by ellensclass/ ‏@ellensclass on her Idea a day site. The blog post was on the arctic temperatures over in the USA, I used the  video and the NPR news text.

To set up the video I asked my students to rearrange the mixed up title of the video that I had boarded. I then told them to offer suggestions as to what advice the video would give. I asked them if they had heard of the low temperatures hitting the USA.

Then I simply played the video one time. I did a quick comprehension check by asking them to list the activities in order and what the guy said at the end of the video.

Next I asked them to imagine making a quick survey to poll people based on the activities e.g. see this photo of the board:
The aim of this was to review and practice some language for approximating data – so I did the poll with the class and asked then to rephrase the results e.g. Nearly everyone in the survey has listened to the snow, Hardly anyone said that they would go swimming outside in the winter etc.

I then used the NPR text in a match the title to text race, where I dictated the 7 titles to the students (explaining that they referred to 7 events that happened in the chilly conditions in the US) and then in teams they had to run over to a table containing the texts to find a match. The team who finished first with correct matches wins.

Pre-social media

I did use a course book resource when looking at telephone language in another part of the lesson. And as mentioned all the activities are not new but in my pre-social media days finding appropriate and interesting content such as the video and the text would have been much more difficult.

So thanks very much to all the folks in my social media who freely share and inspire daily.

And thanks for reading.

Oh yeah nearly forgot my tags:

wooden – It was the first real Xmas with our 20-month old son so the wooden referred to the wooden/cardboard tree we bought rather than a real Xmas tree. Great fun was had by our son in playing with it

cycle – I am not too keen on NYE parties partly because of the transport issues and partly because they are usually disappointing. This year however as my wife stayed home with our baby and also as my friend only lives 15/20 minutes aways by bike I ventured out. And had a surprisingly good NYE party, nice!

Echo – This was the name of an art exhibition, of someone my wife knows, that we went to see – video installations, not bad.

BNCaudio corpus and TOEIC listening

Those of you who teach the TOEIC or other exams will have wanted from time to time to be able to use “authentic” audio along with its hesitations, pauses, repetitions and so on.

There’s a need to expose learners to the jungle English out in the world compared to the garden English in the classroom, terms coined by Richard Cauldwell and Sheila Thorn, see the clip above.

John Hughes makes the case for materials to use such audio and video. He points out that using corpora data for this requires context. I agree though if you want to focus on decoding and building bottom-up listening skills requiring context is not so important.

I very recently used the Lancaster interface to the BNC audio data in my TOEIC exam class.

For details on getting access to this corpus see this post.

Once you get access make sure the spoken restrictions link is clicked so that it is greyed out as shown in the following screenshot:

BNCaudio-spoken restrictions

Then after entering the search word – contract, I selected the domain as business:


I then looked through the results for some interesting snippets. Note not all audio can be accessed. Also as it is beta there is still some alignment issues between transcripts and audio but you can adjust that and give feedback so that it can be improved.

I told the students that they will listen to snippets of audio using the word contract. I asked them to listen for other words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs related to the use of contract in the audio.

The following is the transcript of the first audio I used:

All members of staff have standard conditions of service as set out here, with the exception of temporary staff or staff who are er [pause] on a short time contract or maternity leave cover who may have a short term er notice er [pause] erm for erm [pause] a period of notice.

After the first listen one of the students recognised the word notice; after the second listen two students recognised temporary, conditions and staff. A third listen produced recognition of standard conditions.

I then dictated the transcript to them (without the hesitations, pauses etc) for them to write down. And then went through other relevant lexis (short time/term contract, maternity leave cover) and checked for understanding.

I repeated the procedure for two more audio snippets containing the keyword contract.

The students did of course find the audio difficult but they liked that it was real audio and made a change from the coursebook audio. I plan to use this process in the remaining classes. Next time I will probably start off with a much shorter clip and move to longer ones.

Thanks for reading.


The SpokesBNC interface allows you to display just the concordances in the BNC that have audio recordings, very useful.

The Tinkerer – a corpus informed video activity

This post is a response to Vicki Holletts’ hosted ELT blog carnival on the theme of teaching and learning using videos. I had sent in a previous video activity but seeing as that was a bit old a new one was in order. The video is most suited for engineering/technical students.

This is a video activity that is also a little corpus informed. The lead-in is words taken from COCA using its synonym function. So in this case the search term was [=tinker]. I have included my transcription so that variations/extensions can be done such as gap-fills for detailed listening, or noticing spoken grammar. The jumbled text was made from Textivate.

1. Dictate the follow words to the class (the numbers are the rank order frequency from COCA):

tamper(7), fix(2), toy(4), fiddle(6), mend(8), play(1), interfere(5), repair(3).

2. These words are synonyms of this word T_ _K_R. //write gapped word on board, Tinker// What’s the word?

3. What do you call a person who does this? //Tinkerer; check that they understand the word, room here to personalise e.g. do you like tinkering?//

4. Re-arrange the text (that goes with the picture) into the correct order:

original text from Hackaday; scrambled text from Textivate

Original text from Hackaday.

5. Watch the video. //approx 8 mins//

6. What word from the list do you think is the best synonym for JJ, the tinkerer? //you could comment on the rank order frequency of the words if most students pick play as best synonym//

7. Why do you think JJ says things are too easy now?

8. Do you agree with him? Why/why not?


When I was growing up, we grew, uh we grew up in the country. I didn’t have a whole lot. Uhm, my dad is very mechanical, uhm he owned a motorcycle shop when I was growing up. So a lot of what I worked on was with engines. Yeah if a go-kart breaks I would have to fix it myself. And sometimes it was held together with bailing twine and stuff just so that I could ride it, but.

It was in West Virginia [laughs] and I picked up a runt bicycle, a bicycle with little tiny wheels. Monkey bikes or whatever they’re called. Picked one up at a yard sale for about five bucks. And I put an engine on it. And I left the bike the way it was. So it was still a pretty big size. And then I thought to myself I’m gonna make it smaller. And then I cut the frame it half. And then I welded a bunch of stuff on there, a little tiny swing arm and used the wheels off a go-ped, uh the sprocket and chains off a go-ped the engine’s off a wheat eater. It’s a micro-bike I like that. That one’s lingered I, I’ve had that a longtime now and it just keeps going.

Yeah, yeah I do a lot of just research on the internet, or uh random stuff. I’ll get on tangents on scientific topics or, or on something engine related or on some sort of hacking thing. I’ll just absorb knowledge I suppose. I normally, I’ll have some sort of inspiration or see a video or something that, I’m like I gotta do that. Or I’ll do something similar or  beat it or something like that. In fact I gotta an idea. You got, you got a rolly chair and there’s a leaf blower right there. Do we want to interrupt this interview, and? [laughs] See if it works. Nope. Oh well. [laughs] It was stupid. But now we know.

And sometimes I feel like tinkering with engines and sometimes it’s that and I keep focus all my attention on that. And sometimes it’s something electronic. And sometimes it’s sumthin else. It’s just that, it varies. Right now it’s the Tesla coil ’cause I’ve been working on it a while all week. That’s, that’s my top priority. That’s what I’ve been researching. I dunno I saw a Tesla coil video, I think, on the internet when I was a teenager. And I just thought I gotta build one of those. I got my son now, and slowed, slowed down my projects. But that’s okay. He is a project, he’s a good project. I’m forming him, in, into what I want [laughs]. Did he do it? Yeah he did.

I, I’ve always had a knack for finding really good deals and stuff, like I’m good at negotiations, I’m good at spotting things that are worth money at thrift stores. It started at thrift stores. Uhm, go there and I would just see stuff that other people wouldn’t recognize. And I clean them up makes sure they work. Go through it, just resell it on Ebay.

You heard that? They shake their body. And hiss like that to sound like a rattlesnake. But you see there’s no rattle. I’ve always, I, I’ve always been a really really curious person. Hafta explore things if I see sumthin I sometimes have to just pull over and hafta look. I’d be the guy you want in a zombie apocalypse that’s for sure. [laughs] Cause I’m very uh, I’m very resourceful. I can pretty much make anything happen with whatever I’ve got on hand.

It’s too easy now. Like back in the day when you wanted a radio. Like you wanted a transmitter or something, you build it. People don’t build them now, you just go out ‘an buy it. You don’t hafta learn how it works, you just use it. Same with computers, back in the eighties and stuff you hadta know how the computer worked before you could just use one. So, stuff’s too easy nowadays.

Thanks to the ELT blog carnival for the inspiration.

South Park, web user requirements meeting

Another net search revealed this gem of a video that can be used to illustrate lexis of user requirements meetings. The comment under the video also provides some useful language.

I used the video using the listening from the middle approach, this time I got students to come up to the board to transcribe what they heard. I play the extracted mp3 from 1:05(‘To help you out…) to 1:57(“I must not have…”)

After the transcription onto the board, and after asking students to predict what came before and what comes after the recording they just transcribed*, I ask them to note down all words related to web/internet  as they watch the whole video.

I then play the video.

Possible word list to review:

user requirements (sessions)

web application

(running through) log in process

new user (would encounter)

(when) visiting our site

welcome screen images

user (may encounter)

(based on) an algorithm

pages (require different) routing

(check out) pages

(filled out) the registration data

the system (will take them to)

visit the […] page

(automatically) signs them up to

spam list

my myspace page

updated to the latest version

(accept) changes to the word doc (I sent)

jump to page

users are taken

new to our site

existing customer

dead-end with no exit

address that bug


The text in brackets are optional depending on focus of lesson.

As homework for the next session I then asked the class to think of all the stages involved in designing and building a web application or website, pick one of the stages and invent a dialogue using appropriate and relevant vocabulary.

Although I did not use the written note under the video I may use it next time say as a gap fill to revise related vocabulary:

The video was originally made for a one-time only showing at the 2007 iRise user conference held in Las Vegas. These “user requirements” meetings are held when a business is in the process of building a web application, and need to figure out what to build and how. Over simplification of the steps involved:

1. You meet and discuss what it is you want to build
2. You construct a huge requirements document which lays out the process and specifications
3. You meet and review whats been built and it hardly resembles what you first discussed

Hope you enjoyed this and found it useful.

*For some reason it was hard going to get them to imagine what came before/what comes after except for, of course, predicting that Kenny dies!

Dr Strangelove, telephoning

This is a great little activity to do as an extension when reviewing telephoning language.

With my TOEIC exam class (for which I am always on the hunt to liven up!) I first asked my students to list as many telephone phrases and vocabulary they could remember in 3 mins. There was then open class feedback and phrases and vocab were boarded.*

Next I asked them if they had heard of the film Dr Strangelove, a few had. I explained that they would watch a 4 minute clip of a telephone exchange between the US president and the Russian president, and that the US president was delivering some bad news.

They were told that they would only hear the US president talking and that they should try to imagine what the Russian premier might be saying.

Play the clip:

Tell the students that they will get a transcript of what the US leader said and their task is to write down what they imagined his opposite number said.

Hand out the following:

What does Dimitri say?

Hello? Hello, Dimitri?

Listen, I can’t hear too well, do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little?

Oh, that’s much better.

Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I’m coming through fine too, eh?

Good, then. Well then as you say we’re both coming through fine.

Good. Well it’s good that you’re fine and I’m fine.

I agree with you. It’s great to be fine. laughs

Now then Dimitri. You know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb.

The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb.

Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head.

You know. Just a little… funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing.

Well, I’ll tell you what he did, he ordered his planes… to attack your country.

Well let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri.

Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it?

Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri? Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?

Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dimitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened. It’s a friendly call.

Of course it’s a friendly call. Listen, if it wasn’t friendly, … you probably wouldn’t have even got it. They will not reach their targets for at least another hour.

I am… I am positive, Dimitri.

Listen, I’ve been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick.

Well I’ll tell you. We’d like to give your air staff a complete run down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes.

Yes! I mean, if we’re unable to recall the planes, then I’d say that, uh, well, we’re just going to have to help you destroy them, Dimitri.

I know they’re our boys. Alright, well, listen… who should we call?

Who should we call, Dimitri?

The people…? Sorry, you faded away there. The People’s Central Air Defense Headquarters. Where is that, Dimitri?

In Omsk. Right. Yes.

Oh, you’ll call them first, will you?

Uh huh. Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dimitri?

What? I see, just ask for Omsk Information.

I’m sorry too, Dimitri. I’m very sorry. Alright!

You’re sorrier than I am! But I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are, Dimitri.

Don’t say that you are more sorry than I am, because I am capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we’re both sorry, alright?


Yes he’s right here.

Yes, he wants to talk to you. Just a second.

taken from The Kubrick Site: The Strangelove Continuity Script

If you have a strong class one could give the script with no line breaks and students would have to decide where to put in Dimitri’s line.

There are of course opportunities for focusing on phone language – ..coming through fine; Sorry, you faded away there; Do you happen to have the phone number; just a second

If you got students to do it in pairs also great to get some of them to act out their dialogue.

Credit for this idea activity must go to commenter Dzubur93. One could for added interest use their Dimitry lines for comparison:

Dimitri: Oh hi Mr prez! What? Sure Can you hear me? You coming through fine? Im coming throught fine Were both fine? ITs good to fine. Its great to be fine The What? What Bomb? What u talkin bout? Funny in the head? What did he do? WHAT! YOU CAPITALIST MOTHERFUCKER! ! ILL HAVE YOUR HEAD! Who cares how u feel!? Whats that mean? You dont like talking to me? You sure dont sound like it! So its a friend call? Great, ‘cept im gonna be blown up! U sure? This sounds like a trick. What am i gonna do?


Hope you enjoyed this and let me know if you use it.

*The boarding work included using what Hugh Dellar calls vertical and horizontal expansion of lexis. This approach will be familiar to many teachers but the nomenclature is a useful heuristic when going over functional language such as telephoning.


This is an example of a pair of students acting out their dialogue (unfortunately I pressed record too late to capture the start of their performance!):

Rat Race, giving directions

This is not my idea, I got it as I was searching for videos related to directions by youtube user dabitkim [Update – youtube version no longer available, added google drive version]:

Also the notion of starting from the middle of a recording comes from this post on listening by Rachael Roberts/@teflerinha after John Madden.

Typically I use this video after I have done previous work on giving directions.

I made my own cut of the scenes without the subtitles and also extracted the sound file as an mp3. (Let me know if you want a copy, I don’t want to tempt any copyright issues by posting to the blog).

I draw three columns on the board, I label the middle column first – “What I heard” and say to students to note down as much as they hear.

I play the audio mp3 recording from the middle of the scene, where the squirrel lady says “Now listen carefully” (1.09) up to when the driver says “Thank you very much”.

After a few listens I ask students to compare their transcription with a neighbour. Then I play the audio recording phrase by phrase and, with the help of the class, write down the dialogue on the board.

Once the dialogue is written I go through some alternative language for directions that one could substitute into the dialogue.

-Now listen carefully.

-You wanna go straight

down here exactly 1.8 miles.

– 1.8.

– And make a left at the Totem Pole Ranch.

-Go 5.4 miles and

then go up a big hill.

-And you’ll see a big yellow sign

with some graffiti on it.

-There’s a little the dirt road, take that on the right.

It’ll take you right to the interstate.

– Thank you very much

Then, referring back to the three columns on the board, I ask students what they thought “Came before” (I write that in the first column) and “What comes after” (I write that in the third column).

During the preceding section, after Madden, I may prompt them and ask about who they think the characters are, their emotions, their relationship.

Before playing the video recording I ask them to listen out for a word and a phrase related to giving directions – “shortcut”, “it’ll save you …”.

I then play the video and the ending usually gets a laugh. This activity lasts about 20 minutes more or less depending on the level of your group.

Hope you like it and do comment if you have used this video already.


Used this recently and added a little production activity, after students watch the video – ask them to imagine that the squirrel lady gave the correct directions because the two lost people bought a squirrel.

Using the IDEA accent archive in one-to-one classes

Recently I’ve been using the International Dialects of English Archive frequently when teaching Business English one-to-one to employed adults.

This post outlines what I usually do, hoping to learn from readers who may comment on other ways that one can use the archive. So please do let me know.

Usually the need for listening practice with an accent occurs in class, this is not a problem as the archive’s interface allows one to look for and download a file fairly rapidly (see Update 5 below). I download both a recording and its transcript. The recordings are monologues recounting personal information about the speaker.

The student is told to listen a couple of times (more if needed) and note down as much as they can understand. They are also told to listen out for only the second part of the recording as the first part is of the person reading from a set text. The transcript is then given for the student to read and listen to the archive at the same time.

As well as practising listening, I also use the transcript to look at any lexis questions the student may have.

Although I have yet to do this, for students wanting more accent training, selected phrases/chunks from the recording could be used for students to write down word for word. The transcript could also be used to get students to mark word stress/sentence stress/connected speech.

A post by Rachael Roberts/@teflerhina describes some ways to focus on decoding skills.

I have also been toying around with the idea of pointing to words and phrases in the transcript which the student would have to seek in the recording using the forward/back buttons on the player.

How would you/do you use it?

Update 1:

A news article describing recent research looking at accents and comprehensibility (HT @TESOL_Assn) caught my attention. I always wonder how much accent listening work would be useful for my learners, thinking I do too little. This research suggests that comprehensibility in the form of grammar and vocabulary may be more important than pronunciation. Food for thought.

Update 2:

A rich post by Kevin Stein/@kevchanwow on helping beginners with listening to English has given me some ideas to check whether my learners have segmentation issues or not.

Update 3:

A great post on connected speach by Rachael Roberts/@teflerhina led me to this video by Mark Hancock explaining one way to help students with accents. He identifies 5 vowels and 5 consonants which are vulnerable to change according to the speech community the speaker is from. I find this is to be a very handy guide and look forward to applying it with my students. The handout of the talk can be found here.

Update 4:

A great post describing the use of micro-listenings by Carolyn Kerr/@KerrCarolyn.

Update 5:

It is not as simple now to download recordings for offline use. If you have Firefox from the page with recording you want go to Tools/PageInfo/Media tab and you will see mp3 in list.