Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

6:39 AM

And so another year comes to an end.
I have to be honest about this, but 2016 felt like the shortest of years. Somehow, despite being crazy busy with work, the Delta, creating materials, being a conference speaker for the first time and starting this blog, I had a fun year with memorable moments.
With a basketful of New Year Resolutions, I'll share with you my top 5 related to teaching:
1. Get 2 articles published in 2017 in a ELT magazine
2. Grow The Sound Eater's audience
3. Improve my speaker experience (keeping my fingers crossed for Serbia and Spain)
4. Complete my ESP for Fashion materials set
5. Learn 3 new things to use in class

What are your resolutions about teaching?
Care to share?

The Sound Eater

Monday, December 19, 2016

Top three Christmas movies for an EFL/ESL class (with free worksheets)

12:51 AM
Hey guys! Long time no see. Been particularly busy with holiday prep.
But I'm back with some awesome Xmas ideas for you.
This post is about all those wonderful Xmas movies and how to use them with your classes.
So here are my top three movies to use in class:

1. A Christmas Carol

The Dickens classic is always one of my favourites when it comes to showing students (of mainly any age, but I wouldn't go lower than 9 or 10) a Christmas story with substance. The fact that it is a story is really helpful if you're preparing students for any exam above Cambridge FCE or Ielts 6.5. You can set it as homework reading and then watch the movie.

What activities to pair it with?
- notice the differences between book and movie
- what could have been done different
- anticipating and guessing (stopping the movie at given intervals and asking students to imagine what comes next), followed by confirmation and correction of said predictions (easier if they were recorded on Word file or WB)
- what are the main topics of the movie
- describe the characters (both physically and morally)
- make a poster of the movie with quotes and short review
- jigsaw watching (if you have 2 available rooms and very willing students)

Which version to watch?
The animated version by Robert Zemeckis - A Christmas Carol(2009) is a favorite but I have to say that The Muppet Christmas Carol(1992) is really popular with the kids.

2. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas

I am a big big fan of Dr. Seuss and I tend to use at least one of his books for a series of lessons every year. I don't use Dr. Seuss only with children, but rather with all my students. The Grinch is a wonderful Christmas tale with a twist, written impeccably in rhyme, easily available on Youtube.
It's especially easy to use with kids (that can read and write), it can be read to them, you can use the storybook available on Youtube at this link and pair it with my worksheets here: Worksheet 1, Worksheet 2 and Worksheet 3.
The worksheets are a bit of a backbone. You can add to them, change them, delete something, etc.
The reading can be done as preparation for the movie or as a follow-up series of activities after the movie.

What activities to pair it with?
- notice the differences between book and movie
- anticipating and guessing (stopping the movie at given intervals and asking students to imagine what comes next), followed by confirmation and correction of said predictions (easier if they were recorded on Word file or WB)
- describe the characters (both physically and morally) - especially the Grinch and Cindy Lou
- make a poster of the movie with quotes and short review
- write the Grinch a Christmas card/postcard to: convince him that Christmas is awesome, to congratulate him on his change, to complain about his actions (used this one with adult business students who were learning to compile letters of complaint and they loved it!)

Which version to watch?
The 2000 Ron Howard-directed version is my personal favorite because it has Jim Carrey as the Grinch. But there is an animated 1966 version available on Youtube which is really nice as well (easier for kids and much shorter).


3.Home Alone

What can I say, I love to see a kid win against full grown men. I must have personally seen this movie over a dozen times and I still laugh at every scene where Harry and Marv are outwitted by a phenomenal Kevin. This movie is a classic albeit full of incredibly impossible narratives and slightly politically incorrect situations. I love it. Most of my students don't really mind the ridiculousness of the story and we all have a good time. I've never used this with kids, only teens and adults, but it's been a hit every single time. There is something to the fact that most of the conversations have 2 participants and are not surrounded by other noise that makes it particularly soothing for my students to listen to. It also gives me a great opportunity to delve neck deep into American accents, idioms, expressions and typical American humour.

What activities to pair it with?
- what if (students imagine what they would have done if this had happened to them using the conditionals)
- what should they have done (giving recommendations and advice)
- practice using all past tenses (simple and perfect)
- anticipating and guessing (stopping the movie at given intervals and asking students to imagine what comes next), followed by confirmation and correction of said predictions (easier if they were recorded on Word file or WB)
- describe the characters (both physically and morally)
- decide which part of Kevin's plan you liked most and why
- make a poster of the movie with quotes and short review
- rewrite the ending
- write Kevin's parents a letter, write Kevin a letter

The Sound Eater

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Paris Presentation On Pron

6:12 AM
Hey guys, just here to post my slides from the TESOL France 2016 Colloquium. It was an amazing experience and I am grateful to TESOL France for providing me with such an opportunity and doing an awesome job at organizing the conference. I got to meet a lot of very interesting people, saw some really interesting presentations and performed my first ever speaker job! Yay!

So here are the slides. If you have any Qs, please feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you asap.

The Sound Eater

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Guess it sounds like Sounds Bingo (free worksheet)

1:11 AM
I've always been fascinated by sound. It somehow always holds the key to better communication, higher intelligibility and overall a feeling of accomplishment. I wonder at every little step my students make towards acquiring sounds that their L1 either doesn't possess or they, the sounds, sound totally or partially different. I've made it my business to help my students, young or not so young, get into the good habit of practicing some pron every lesson. It might sound silly or it might sound pretentious, but I truly believe that "scientia potentia est" as my beloved Latin professor used to say. An informed mind is powerful.
I put together a little game for pronunciation that has been giving me many satisfactions. It works on the principles of a classic game of Bingo. But it makes it a bit more tricky.
This is the grid.

As you can see. The sounds I was focusing on were the Past Simple "-ed" endings, this due to an issue most languages have with consonant clustering which is quite common in the English language.
I asked students to fill in their grid with whatever sound they wanted (from the three available).
So their grid should look like something like this:

Now the fun begins. I, the teacher, will have a bagful of regular Past Simple conjugated verbs. I will extract one at a time and read it out. If the verbs ends in their first box's sound, they can cross it off and write the verb under the box. If not, they must wait for their sound. So technically, the Bingo game goes from left to right, one sound at a time. They can't cross off their last right sound if the first four haven't been crossed out.
The concept is pretty simple, but you might want to do a couple of trials with your students to make sure they understand the logic of it.

The game can be adapted to any which sound you like. You can use it to teach diphthongs, or maybe the difference between stressed vowel sounds and the schwa. I've used it for many sounds and it works just as well.

Click here for your EMPTY BINGO WORKSHEET

Download away, have fun, teach and if you can, let me know how it worked and if you and your students enjoyed it!

The Sound Eater

Monday, October 31, 2016

YL Halloween lesson plan (with free worksheets)

12:18 AM

It's Halloween! This is one of my favorite festivities of the year and planning lessons for this day usually begins a month prior. I've been meaning to upload these worksheets(yay! you get free worksheets) for about a week now, but the earthquakes here in Italy have pretty much put a dent in my excitement levels.

Here it is.

Broom-Stick Bunny Lesson Plan

The lesson is based on the Looney Tunes episode "Broom-Stick Bunny"(Youtube link - ). The action takes place on Halloween and Bugs is out trick-or-treating as a witch when he stumbles upon Witch Hazel's house who is very busy preparing a potion. We also have a magic mirror that tells Hazel she is the ugliest of all. All round it's a funny little clip only about 8 minutes long.


1. Have a "What day is it today(or tomorrow)?" hangman with your kids. And yes, everyone likes a good hangman game. - great for practicing spelling
2. When they get the question, have them answer and write Halloween on the board, circle it and tell them they have 2 minutes to write as many words as they know about Halloween in pairs/groups. Make sure you monitor and keep track of useful words you might need in the lesson (broom/broomstick, witch, trick-or-treating, costume, spider)
3. Have students come up and write one or two words. Make sure everyone understands the words, if not have the student who wrote the word explain, give a synonym or maybe even use L1.


1. Give The first worksheet and have student do activity 1 in pairs/group.
2. Monitor and make sure they are on track, communicating, solving.
3. If your class is super small, fast or unwilling to communicate, you can do it as a class activity with you as the ring master, but you should first push them to do it amongst themselves.
4. Class feedback. Use the images I've included with the worksheets to make it super clear. Maybe pin them to the board.

First viewing

1. Tell students you will watch the cartoon once. Use your hands to make this clear.
2 Write: "What costume is Bugs Bunny wearing?" Show them the Bugs Bunny image again and ask them if he is wearing a costume there. Say: "In the cartoon, Bugs Bunny is wearing a costume. What costume is it?"
3. Watch the cartoon. Some kids will automatically give you the answer as soon as they see the first scene. Make a shhhhh sign with your hands and ask them to keep looking (again, your hands are indispensable)
4. After the cartoon ends ask a few kids what the costume was or ask them as a class.
5. Extra: ask them what was their costume last year for Halloween and this year for Halloween.
    Extra: write "What was your costume last year for Halloween?" and "What is you costume this year for Halloween?" and have students ask each other in pairs. Change pairs, do it again.

Second viewing

1. Tell students to look at activity 3. Say: "Look at the questions. Read the questions. Do you understand? What is a tarantula? Do you have a pet tarantula?"
2. Say: "Watch the cartoon. After, answer the questions."
3. Watch the cartoon. Some might start writing while watching, that's fine, but if you get some students frantically looking around because they are not writing while their classmates are, stop the cartoon and say: "We answer the questions after." Use you hands to signal an after.
4. When the cartoon is finished, organise the students in pairs or groups. I prefer groups for this stage since more heads are better than one.
5. Monitor. If you see students struggling to remember, you're lucky. You get to watch the cartoon again!
6. When you're fairly sure they have the answers, this sureness coming from monitoring of course, do a class feedback. Maybe write the answers on the board. Your call.


1. Have students turn the worksheet over, if that was your game plan, or give the students the second worksheet.
2. Organize them in pairs or groups and say: "Now, write the cartoon's story. Use only the present simple!"
3. ICQs: Do you work alone or in pairs? Do write something? What?
4. Ask students if they need to watch the video again. Usually you will get a resounding yes.
5. After they've watched again, they are ready to go. Monitoring here is crucial because they will be going everywhere with the verbs, so you need to insist that they stick to the Use only Present Simple rule. Write it in the board if necessary.
6. Help out with vocabulary if necessary.
7. At this point, they might not finish in time for the end of the lesson, so they can take it home as homework.
8. If they do finish:
HOMEWORK: draw a witch (for younger, low level learners), draw a witch and write her story (for younger, higher level learners), write a haunted house story (older YL like tweens and teens).

Click HERE for Broom-Stick Bunny Free Worksheets

And that's it guys!
In case you get this idea, yeah, it does work with adults just the same. I tried it out with two lower level adult classes and it was fine. They had a blast.

Hope you enjoy it.

The Sound Eater

Saturday, October 22, 2016

It's that time of the year - First Lessons Part 1

2:43 AM
I'm one to get all sorts of excited when I think about a whole new academic year to share with new (and sometimes old) students. The first lesson in particular can be more nerve-wrecking, preparation wise, than if I were preparing them all for some Cambridge exam.
I guess we've all been there, trying to make the first lesson a smashing success, or like I like to call it, to knock it out of the park before the game starts.
Over the years, I've tried (and had some flailing fails with) some many 1st lesson ideas I thought I should share it with you guys.
These ideas are mine, or at least I think they are, slightly modified from year to year, class to class.
Tried and tested.
Here you go. Feel free to reuse, modify, maybe give credit or send little teaching demons my way because it was a bad idea.

*Post-script: I've also taken the liberty of making the explanations fun since there is nothing more dreadful for a teacher than an ill-explained trick. It's like throwing Houdini in a tank and then turning off the lights. Just no.

The 5 Questions (or more)
 Chances are you don't know your new students and they don't know you. Good. You can use that to your advantage.


Ah. The land of full grown, fully understanding, slightly prone to judge, experienced human beings who have spent a lot of money to be there and are expecting you to bring your A game.

Step 1 - Lower levels (and/or you can't speak their mother tongue) - Say your name, write it on the board. Ask the students their names, which even the lowest of levels have usually covered. Now use your wonderful teaching hands and show them a five. Then say "five questions". Repeat. Say "five questions for me" and point at yourself. Repeat. Say "You write five questions for me" while pointing at them, miming writing, flashing the five and pointing at you. Good. You're at least on your way to become a professional mime. Students should have understood by now and this should be obvious by looking at their relaxed facial expressions. Now it's time to pair them up, again by physically going near them and using your hands as human pairing brackets. That's it. They should be on their merry way, with you hovering, smiling, offering some help (don't go in an steal the show).

Step 1 bis - Higher levels (and/or you speak their mother tongue) - You lucky dog, you can actually use complexly connected sounds to communicate. Say your name, write it on the board. Ask the students their names. Say " I want you to write at least 5 questions to ask me. They can be about anything. Go crazy/I like crazy questions." Don't forget your ICQs (for those of you running to get a methodology dictionary or your CELTA notebook - Instructions Checking Questions - I've got you covered).
ICQs: Do you have to write? What? How many questions? The questions are for...?
Now it's time to pair them up by physically going near them and using your hands as human pairing brackets, as before. Again, that's it. They should be fine, but you still need to hover, make a mental note of any errors you spot, don't say a word about that yet (nobody likes the "You were 99% right but you screwed up the spelling of a preposition so you're crap" teacher).

Step 2 - for everybody - Ask the students to dictate the questions, by naming them and waving a "come here" and saying "Question 1". Write questions as they are. Don't correct now. Make sure everybody gets a chance to speak. IF you have huge classes (that sucks), keep track of who has spoken, because if there is one thing all students like, it's saying something to the teacher, in front of the class, after having had sufficient time to plan it. Write more than five questions, but (obviously) do't write the same question twice because the students came up with a slightly different way of asking for your favorite food.

Step 3 - for everybody - See if there are any errors. If you're lucky, there are. So who is going to correct them? You? No way! Put an asterisk on the questions with an error in them and then write "* = error" on the board. Let it sink in. Say "Question 1, 2, 3 etc have errors. In pairs. Correct them."
Check whatever cognate resonates with correct in your students language or simply learn "right" and "wrong" in your students language, they'll come in handy while you teach them anyhow.

Step 4 - for everybody - Ask students to give you the corrected version. If the pair you've selected doesn't have it, ask another pair (don't forget to smile while you shut them down) and proceed until you have the corrected version. If all he students are unable to correct the question (be careful that you're not asking them to use something way above their level in which case you need to tell them so, mime it if necessary and give them the correct version), something I think has happened maybe once or twice to me, write the correct version and wait of the AHHHs.

Step 5 - for everybody - Now you have a set of questions. And they're all yours. It's your students genuine curiosity about your person that has produced them. So show respect. Throw in some acknowledgement for their own culture. You are on their turf. You chose to be there. So show respect. Answer the questions. Slowly, repeating when necessary. If some questions are too personal (but they almost never are), just invent something.

Step 6 optional - If the questions would be irrelevant for the students, take a minute and modify them. I imagine you want to ask your students some stuff as well. Well, this is your chance.

Step 7 aka my fav - for everybody - The fun begins. You've answered the questions. That's all the talking you'll be doing. Turn to the students and say "Now you". Point to the questions, use your human pairing bracket hands and say "The questions, in pairs. Now. You have 5 minutes."If you have a computer/IWB in the room, use a timer. You can find awesome timers online. See that everybody is on track and then grab a notepad and a pen and go monitor. Write down errors but also examples of good language.

Step 8 - for everybody - Change pairs. Make sure this can be done easily and quickly. So prepare the room before the class or if you can't, think about your pair changing before class. This step can be repeated as many times as you want until maybe everybody has had a chance of speaking to each other.

Step 9 - for everybody - When students are finishing the last questions on your last pair change, wipe the board clean and write a few examples of errors and maybe one or two examples of good language. Put an asterisk on the error sentences and a smiley face or heart on the good language ones. Ask students to correct the errors live with you or in their final pairs and then go through it together.

Step 10 - for Lower levels - Write two questions, similar to the ones from the original list and say "Write these two questions in your notebook." Mime write, flash two. Say "Homework". Learning the mother tongue for this will also be very useful, just to be able to make the concept clear. Say "Answer  the two questions for homework." They should have got what you want them to do. If they didn't and come back with nothing next lesson, it's fine, you have a whole year ahead.

Step 10 bis - for Higher levels - Write two questions, similar to the ones from the original list and say "Write these two questions in your notebook." Say "Answer  the two questions for homework.". Try and make the questions more challenging. Something that would require a serious answer.

Kids and Teens

Little people, bent on making things just a little bit trickier.

Step 1 to 10 apply as they are, just make sure that the questions are G (General Audiences - All Ages Admitted)

Step 7 and 8 might need a little coaxing, but I've learned using a bit of background music (whatever 5 member pop boyband hits and a couple of dance songs will do)

That's it. This one activity can keep you going for a full 90 minutes, if done thoroughly, and it can definitely fill 60 minutes. I've done it more times than I can count and it is by far my favorite. It's light, good for revision (hello question formation, how you doin'?), great for setting up a scheme (error correction done by students) and overall fun to do.

The Sound Eater

Monday, October 17, 2016

Open for business

1:07 AM

The Sound Eater will be a compendium of materials and resources that I, as a an ESL teacher, have either put together, created or somehow used. It will strive to be useful and interesting, challenging and hopefully worthwhile.
I am open to suggestions, so if you feel like you need some sort of material, just let me know and I'll put on my witch hat and concoct some awesome potion, er, I mean resource!

The Sound Eater