“Dear me” letters

“What would you say to your 16- year- old self if you had the chance?” That’s what 75 celebrities were asked and they wrote a letter expressing their thoughts. Dear Me Letters is a book that collects those letters.As a kind of follow-up, its website extended the idea to the public and allows readers to submit their own letters.

The Guardian published an extract from the book in an interactive article in the online version of the paper.

It is very interesting to read about the insecurities and suffering of people who would become so successful in life. And It is a very good source for an activity with (very) advanced students.You need to have a very relaxed atmosphere in class as well, and be sure that talking about the past won’t upset anybody.

Step 1

Ask your students the same question: “What would you tell your old self if you had the chance? What would you have changed?”.

Tell them about the book. In groups, each student reads one or two letters from The Guardian (print them or let them read them on their phones/tablets). Then, they have to share information about all the advice given in their letters and ellaborate a list of traits all teenagers seem to have in common.

Step 2

Tell them they are going to listen to a radio programma about Dear Me, featuring the editor of the book, Joseph Galliano. You can play the whole recording or concentrate on the first 4 minutes, when Galliano reads his letter to his old 16 self.

The students take notes and compare what they heard with the list they have written from the other letters.

Step 3

As it might be too personal to ask students to write a letter of the same kind, ask them to write a letter to someone from the past or from the future.

To illustrate the idea, play this video, in which Stephen Fry talks about letters. He is asked three questions:

  1. What letter either sent or received had an impact in your life?
  2. To whom would you write a letter now including someone form the past or future?
  3. Why is it important to keep writing letters?

Before they watch it, students answer the questions themselves in groups.


(The interview was filmed at Letters Live at the Southbank on World Book Night, in aid of The Reading Agencywriting )

An alternative to writing a letter to someone from the past or the future can be writing a letter addresed to themselves in the future. They can write a real letter o an email to FutureMe.org. This website is based on the principle that “memories are less accurate than e-mails”, so they invite you to write an email reminding your future self of whatever you want to remember . And then they’ll do “some time travel magic and deliver the letter to you. FutureYou, that is.”

You can write it as a private email to your own self or make it public (but anonymous), which will be included in the “public letters” section.





Help your students with their speaking tests

If you ask your students how they feel about their speaking tests, the answer is usually “terrified”.

Apart from constant class practice, students need to prepare on their own or with other classmates or speakers of English. This is the list of resources I elaborated for my B2 students this year:

  • Watch these videos of students taking their English exams, revise the teachers’ notes and try to improve your skills.
  • Watch these videos by the British Council, they give you advice about what to do and what not to do during your speaking test.
  • Saro Rosales, a teacher at EOI Las Palmas GC wrote an article for her students giving advice for the speaking test, don’t miss it.
  • Would you like to do a language exchange? Here you have a list of sites where you can do them.
  • Intercambio de idiomas, a website where you can find out about places to practise English with other learners and native speakers. People gather together to practise while having a drink.
  • Here you are a list of the topics you might be asked about during your exams.
  • Finally, here you have a list I wrote for my students back in 2009,

Finally, this is the list of topics they should work with if they want to succeed.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

topics for speaking test

Views on Education

With this post we would like to compile several resources that have been suggested in our Facebook group to talk about education (particularly by Laura Martin).

1. First of all, the classic talk by Ken Robinson, one of the most popular video in TED: Do schools kill creativity?’

Also by Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms

Have a look at the fantastic lesson around this video in Film English, by Kieran Donaghy

2. The perspective of a motivated and motivating teacher in TED: “Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, once heard a colleague say, “They don’t pay me to like the kids.” Her response: “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.’” A rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.”

3. Education and technology:

No computers in the classroom in Silicon Valley

4. Free schools:

5. Some notions on “unschooling”:

6. Hackschooling:

If you have any more ideas to add here, please let us know in a comment.

A Tribute to Madiba

The world is grieving for the loss of Nelson Mandela. Our role as ESL teachers is not only teaching language, but culture, so we think it is necessary to mention this event in our lessons.

Here we offer two different ideas.

First, we think we can talk about his figure and his words using this slideshow presentation we found on slideshare. We can use it in different ways, as prompts for speaking or writing, or as a reading comprenhension activity.


Secondly, one of the members of our group, Carmela Vaamonde, from Escuela Oficial de Idiomas A Coruña, shared with us this wonderful listening activity about Playing the Enemy, the book that was later used as a basis for the film Invictus.

You can find the audio for the activity here.

And you can dowload the pdf with the questions and the key here:  JohnCarlin_PlayingTheEnemy

Writing a blogpost with B2 students

This article was originally published on my blog “Esl Classroom activities and more“.
20131209-121105.jpgThis is a rather long lesson plan for B2 students, though it can be adapted for B1 and higher levels. It is the result of two objectives I had in mind: first, writing an article, and second, doing some collaborative work on a blog.


TIME: 1 hour

SKILLS: writing

MATERIALS: printed model article, some slideshows (shown below), projector, pc and whitescreen



Students revise a model article, they have to work on its structure, cohesion and coherence, vocabulary, etc. Once they have shared their discoveries, the teacher has to help them find out other discourse markers, topic sentences, etc. I used one found on NEF Advanced, Oxford.


The teacher shows the first two slideshows you can find on this article. With the help of the teacher, they have to relate what they have seen in the model text with what they are seeing at the moment.


The teacher explains the use of wordpress with the last slideshow (it’s in Spanish as I had prepared it for a session with teachers of several languages) of the same post as before. We have to expect some negative reactions as most of them have never used wordpress, our mission here is to reassure them and motivate them to try. It’s important that we provide them with a channel to express their doubts and questions, we are using our facebook group, and there they do not only get my help, but other classmates’. Anyway, I’ve promised I will publish myself the blogposts of those who try and can’t manage to publish their posts.


Explain their task.

Your task

  • Select a topic you can talk about. Some ideas might be: your job, studies, hobbies, a place you have visited or you would like to visit, etc.
  • Write a blog post of about 250 words (don’t copy from Wikipedia or similar) using your own words.
  • Add at least one related image, link and video. Slideshow presentations or audio using soundcloud are optional.
  • Send me an email when you have sent it for revision. I will revise it and publish (you can not do it on your own).
  • If you have problems with media resources (video, images, etc.), leave them as a link and I will solve it for you.
  • When you see your mates’ works, please comment all of them, say your opinion, if you like them or not. There will be time for this (until Christmas holidays).
  • The deadline is the 12th of December.
  • After this deadline there will be time to use the comments section to ask and answer and create some interaction among them.


Now you have to invite them as “contributors” to your blog, thus, they will be able to write and add links, but not to publish posts. This way you can revise what they produce and make any necessary changes.

The deadline for the articles is still open today (December, 9th 2013), but here you can see what they’ve written so far and what other students have done previously.


Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night

Gunpowder Plot

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Sandwiched between the overwhelming popularity of Halloween and all-American Thanksgiving, on November, 5th there is a festival that, in recent years, has gained its lost popularity. Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes’ Night is one of those celebrations that are not rooted in everyday activities or seasonal changes, but in the historical events that took place in the 17th century and whose main character, Guy Fawkes, has become the icon for many who fight the political power (see “V for Vendetta” or the masks of the members of Anonymous).

For those who, like us, enjoy introducing their students to the culture of the target language, here go a couple of links with materials for the classroom. If you are teaching beginners or basic levels, Activity Village (http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/guy-fawkes) has a good range of basic exercises to practice vocabulary.

In case you need something more elaborate for intermediate students, the kibishiaul.com blog (http://kibishipaul.com/blog1/2006/11/05/lesson-16-bonfire-night-video/) has a video lesson with an on-line quiz. Also, for this level, we have the material from Remember Remember (http://www.remember-remember.com/schools/teaching.php#literacy) especially the punctuation activities.

Finally, there is a more humorous BBC video documentary hosted by Nick Knowles that could be a good entertaining and inspiring resource for more advanced students. In this case we have not found any activities, although we suggest students could write a short article on the events described.

If you know of any more materials that could complete this post, please write a comment. We appreciate your collaboration.

The Great Fire of London

It’s been a long long time since we last published something here. Today I’m sharing a listening activity about The Great Fire of London. The main objective is not that the answer all questions correct, but that they get to know some of London’s history.

The acitvity is suitable for B1+ and B2 students. You just need to give students the questions and play the video. You can even let them see the video without the questions first.

Finally, as follow up or just for fun, you can show them or share with them this other article which includes a video created by some De Montfort University students with a recreation of London before The Great Fire.