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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Shakespeare Behind Bars – A conversation lesson plan

Today I’m trying out a new tool, inspired by my talented friends and teachers Cristina Cabal and Bruno Andrade: Spark Adobe.

You can open the lesson here.

It’s so much fun and reasonably easy to use!

I came across this video about this redemptive programme Shakespeare behind bars and it was mind blowing! My first thought was “how have I not heard of this before?” but my second thought was “I gotta make a lesson plan out of it!”. If you want to learn more about this programme, I highly recommend this link and this video.

I hope this story touches you the same way it touched me. It gives lots of food for thought for our students, to say the least.

Teachers’ Notes

For: Adults

Level: B2 students or above

Type of lesson: Discussion

Time: 1 hour

Aim: A discussion where students decide whether performing Shakespeare plays might be a solution for the prison crisis.

Language point: Functional language such as agreeing, disagreeing and turn taking

Screen 1:  Photos contrast ( Warm-up)

(Pair Work)Teacher shows 2 pictures of a Shakespeare’s play, without telling who the actors are. Ask students: What do they have in common? How might they be different?

Collect opinions from students.

The actors in the first picture are prisoners and the actor in the second picture is professional.

Screen 2: Vocabulary Match ( Pre-reading)

Highlight the pronunciation of bellow /ˈbɛləʊ/, screech /skrtʃ/, vermin /vɜːʳmɪn/ and inmate /ɪnmeɪt/.

Answers ( from top down) – 6 – 2 – 1 – 5 – 3- 4

Screen 3: Reading  “English prisons in grip of crisis”

Students read the questions first then read the text ( scanning)

Suggested answers to questions 1, 2, 3. The last question is personal

1 – staff cuts, a rising jail population and increasing availability of drug

2- After drilling through their cell bars with diamond-tipped cutters and stuffing their beds with pillows to mimic sleeping bodies. ( Ensure they understand what “diamond-tipped cutters” are by showing a picture of them)

3- Because it has become more routine as violence and disorder spread across the prison estate.

Screen 4: Pre-listening for details

Students should read the sentences and then carefully watch the video to find out whether the themes will be mentioned. Teachers might want to play the video twice.

  • Inmates are excited to be part of this programme – True
  • Inmates would like their families to attend the plays – Not mentioned
  • The types of crimes they have committed – True 
  • The inmates are rehearsing the play – True 
  • Negative reviews of the play – False 
  • A nasty relationship between two inmates  – False 


Screen 5:  Discussion

This is the icing on the cake. After reading and watching the video, students will hopefully possess more critical views on the sensitive topic of prison crisis.

Is “Shakespeare behind bars” a possible solution to the chaos installed in many prisons across the world?

Make sure they understand the meaning of recidivism /rɪˈsɪdɪˌvɪzəm/

Let students speak freely with their peers and monitor the interactions.



Thanks for reading.

Interview with Rachael Roberts

I have been stalking following Rachael Roberts’steps for quite some time in different media:  Twitter, her fantastic blog and through the Teaching English British Council’s Blog, where she often writes as well. She’s one of my ELT’s Divas.

I was quite nervous before our interview, but after our first greeting, she immediately put me at ease.

Watch Rachael talk about blogging as a CPD tool, Action Research, Lesson Observations, material writing, amongst other things. I have learnt loads, and I hope you can learn with this interview, too.

Watch part 1 here.

Watch part 2 here.

Check out the book Rachael co-wrote with other ELT experts, How to Write Excellent ELT Materials.

Thanks for watching and reading.



How to create lesson content for online ESL lessons

Hello and Happy 2017! 
It’s Monday, January 2nd and I have already delivered my first online lesson of the year. What about you? 
In this first post of 2017 I have the pleasure to introduce Kris Jagasia. Some of you may already know him: Kris is one of the creators of the successful online teaching platform, Off2Class . He shares some useful tips on how to create online lessons and what things teachers should bear in mind before doing so. 
Thanks a lot, Kris! 


Hello, teachers! My name is Kris Jagasia. My colleague, James Heywood and I have been producing content for our online ESL lessons for the last four years. We started the journey into content creation for our own online teaching venture in early 2012.

At the time, we were spending hours combing the web on sites like Dave’s ESL Café and Busy Teacher looking for ESL content designed for online classrooms. We were struggling to find lesson content that we could use! Eventually, we gave up and started making our own. That experience eventually led to the development of our own ESL Teacher Toolkit for teachers working in digital environments.

Today I would like to outline a couple of the things I’ve learned about how to create content for online ESL lessons. Specifically, the differences between an online classroom and a traditional classroom and how these affect the style of content that works best in this new environment.

How is an online classroom different to a bricks-and-mortar classroom?

The online ESL classroom presents some challenges for content creation. Content designed for the bricks-and-mortar classroom is not necessarily transferable into an online environment. Here are some key differences that you should keep in mind when you create content for online ESL lessons:

Content in an online classroom (such as on Skype, Hangouts or Zoom.us) takes up 90%+ of your student’s visual field. It is much more central to the lesson than a course book or handout in a traditional classroom. Your student will be focusing on the content and it will drive the flow of your lesson.

Implications: Online lesson content must be bright and engaging. Don’t try to put too many words, examples or concepts on any one slide. Make sure you highlight key takeaways. Ensure that the content is adaptive (i.e. you can alter the path the lesson takes if your student is responding to it in an unexpected fashion). Leave lots of room for follow-on concept checking if your student is responding very well to certain slides (or pages).

Mobile is becoming increasingly popular. Love it or hate it, some of your students will be joining your lessons from mobile devices.

Implications: Do not try to fit too many words, images or concepts onto any one slide (or page). Keep things uncluttered! It is always safer to lean towards fewer words on a page (and more slides) than the opposite.

You can control what portion of your screen (or screens) your student sees. If you’re using the screen-sharing feature on your video conference system to share content for your lessons, you can choose to share specific applications rather than your entire desktop. This means you can access your Teacher Notes synchronously, without having to take your eye off of your student or lesson content.

Implications: Try to develop a synchronous set of Teacher Notes (that your students don’t see) for each of your slides. These Teacher Notes should contain additional ideas on how to elicit and concept check the target language. This will help you keep the slide content uncluttered and your word count down!


Interested in creating your own content?

If you’re interested in creating your own content for online ESL lessons, please take advantage of our free PPT Lesson Plan Template. It’s a step-by-step guide with a variety of slide examples that we developed while building our own 570 ESL lessons.

Last June, we also held a webinar for the italki teacher community covering a number of the points listed above in greater detail. You can access the webinar here.

And one more thing. Don’t forget to share your creations with your colleagues! It’s the best way to get honest feedback and ideas for improving your own online lesson content.