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 : /)

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.

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. Everyone’s just 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.

Jigsaw listening with BBC Engineering Connections

Engineering Connections with presenter Richard Hammond is a BBC series (though originally on  National Geographic Channel) about general engineering. Each episode looks at an engineering structure/technology as developed from earlier/other technologies.

The sometimes surprising connections lends itself naturally to an engaging lead-in. So for the example of the Formula One (F1) racing car episode (Series 3 Episode 2) one can project the following phrases taken from the introduction of the episode:

  • A revolution in artillery
  • A new design for a jet engine
  • An ancient boat
  • Protective armour
  • Swords

and ask students how these five things are related. After some time for responses and letting the students know that they are all related to a F1 race car,  there is inevitably a lot of curiosity about how some of the 5 things could be related. The lead-in could be extended to include a discussion of the various hypotheses students may have.

Students are then put into 5 groups and assigned one of the five connections to watch and take notes on. They need to be able to explain to the class afterwards the details of how their connection is related to the topic of the episode. If you have fewer than 5 groups, each group could be assigned to more than one connection or one of the connections could be seen by all groups.

The length of each connection in an episode averages to about 8 mins (a typical episode is generally about 50 mins in total).

The class discussion involves a lot of language related to engineering lexis as well as general English lexis. And even more importantly students are motivated enough to get their classmates to explain more clearly their feedback allowing them to practice concept checking questions, rephrasing etc.

The only downside is that I don’t personally like Richard Hammond and in some of the series his inane grinning can grate!

Contemporary process; even French students not into wine-making

I had been struggling to find an interesting and modern example to use to demonstrate the passive voice in writing about processes. Previously I had used a ‘how to make an X-wing fighter from two Paris metro tickets’ which  turned out marginally better than using wine-making as the process!

So I was glad to see a tweet (hat tip @chadsansing) which led me to an article on a project that turned a set of library steps into a giant game. And as a bonus the text accompanying the video used the passive voice. Authentic, interesting text, not made-up, stiff, out of date prose!

Lesson idea:

There are a number of great images to lead-in at Photos by Michael Newman and Photos by Kennedy Library.

For example using this image:
Taking a turn

one could start by asking – What do you think is happening here? This would then lead onto eliciting various vocabulary needed for the writing task – stairs, tin cans, (tennis) ball, balloons, game, etc.

Before, during  and after photos could then be used to encourage thinking about the procedure which goes from an empty staircase to a game via electronics and collaborative work.

This video of the event could be shown next:

Students would be told to write up a report of the event as if they were a journalist for a newspaper.

Finally a gap fill could be given of an actual write-up:

Four flights of seventy-two stairs ____  _______ into a giant game board using 1,200 feet of wire and 48 Internet-connected tin cans _______ with green and gold helium balloons at DIY: Physical Computing at Play. These were our targets.

The customized game ____   _______ after we invited designers and web developers Michael J. Newman and Scott Hutchinson to Kennedy Library at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, to present at Science Café, an ongoing community series. They made a couple of drives up from L.A. to find inspiration and check out our Brutalist building. The two saw our dramatic stretch of concrete stairs and knew they’d found their game board.

At the event, participants built and tested simple circuits then rigged our staircase using the wire, cans and balloons. Then we aimed and threw tennis balls down the stairs, hoping to knock over the cans, which acted as live switches on foil tape.

Cans _____   _______ to a breakout box by 25’ wires, and a live site updated the score whenever a can from either the green or gold team ____  _____  ____. Working with the library’s IT group, the site ___   ______ on digital displays throughout the building as well as on participants’ mobile devices. Cal Poly linked to the scoring site from the university’s home page.

Use these words: to be (x5), transform, decorate, conceive, attach, knock over, share

As an additional activity one could use the following interview as a listening quiz: