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28 February 2013


NPR's Morning Edition had a great story about idioms in English. They interviewed the editor of the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms... a true lover of words. The interview was loaded with great expressions that we use (and often take for granted) every day.

The "elephant in the room" is something obvious that can't be overlooked, even if no one is talking about it. The phrase was in use as early as 1935.
Elephant in the Room via and

What a great way to share expressions with students who are interested in expanding their idiomatic vocabulary!  I like that so many of our expessions come from Shakespeare, such as "cold fish." We're in the middle of mid-terms now and the one that seems most apropos is "the straw that broke the camel's back." What are some of your favorite expressions?

Check it out here:

26 February 2013

Game Night

                                                      As some of you may know, I am the CMU ELI's Conversation 
Partner Program coordinator. For the past two months, we have joined with the ESL Association on campus and held two game nights. During these evenings, students have come to practice speaking English while playing games. Some bring their (American) conversation partner, some just come with their ELI friends. We eat pizza, play games, chat, and have a good time. 

Usually I bring games with the president of the ESL Association, but during the most recent evening, one student brought a game... he even told me that afternoon that he was going to buy the game so that he could share it with the other students! Have you ever played Sequence? It's very fun and not language-based, which is good for lower-level students. Of course. I don't really have many games that aren't language-based... do other English teachers have this same "problem"?

Some of the other games we've played are Scrabble, Scattergories, Pictionary (large group), Uno, Bingo, Euchre, and Apples to Apples. 

These game nights have been a pretty big hit with the international students at the ELI. Last semester I tried holding these events; however, they weren't well attended. But this semester, a lot more students have been attending. I think providing pizza is a pretty big incentive! We plan to continue these meetings, maybe even going bowling next time!

If anybody  has ever held an event like this before, I would love to hear your suggestions. If you're looking to hold an after-school event, I suggest good advertising and free food for maximum attendance. 

Lesson Idea: Fortune Cookies

For the past (and next) couple of weeks, I have been teaching "future time" to my level 3 grammar students (Intermediate level). We have been taking about be going to and will, which are used for making predictions in English. 

As a fun exit ticket* activity before the break, I instructed students to make fortunes for their classmates, just like they'd get from a Chinese restaurant. I gave each student a little slip of paper to write a fortune on (i.e. "You will be lucky next week"). When they were finished, they gave me the fortune and took a short break. After the break, the students each got a fortune different from the one that they wrote. They each read their fortune out loud to the class, but they had to change the subject from you to (i.e. "I will be lucky next week"). 

This was a low prep activity (the only materials needed are little slips of scrap paper), which didn't take much time in class. The best part was that the students really enjoyed writing and receiving fortunes.

Here's a sample of what they wrote:

  • You will get $9999999 next week.
  • You will get a girlfriend if you take a shower every day.
  • You will change an English book.
  • You will pass this class.
  • You will get a good grade on the test
  • You are going to have fun during spring break.
I really got a kick out of what they wrote for each other, and I think they did too. We had a lot of laughs for the quick 5-minute activity!

Image via
*Exit ticket activities are usually done at the end of class (or before a break). The students are required to finish something (usually proving what they've learned from the class period) and give it to the teacher before the exit the class. They're a great tool to ensure students have learned what you've taught. And in this case, a way tie in the first half of class to the second half when starting class back up after a short break.