Whether you are reading this blog as a language learner or a teacher we can all admit that textbooks are a dry and boring staple of most English courses. The course books, new and old alike, all run through the same old tired subjects; money, the future, jobs, sports, the environment and being healthy just to name a few.
Even the newest editions which at the very least try to keep up with the times can come off as a bit cheesy as they discuss topics such as Twitter and Spotify or mumble rap but always end up giving the impression that they were written without any consultation with a real young person who understands what IS cool and what’s not.
In this blog I’ll discuss a few ways that teachers can spice up their lessons and bring them into the year 2019. For language learners you might consider how to adapt these ideas for yourself for the purposes of self-study.
What’s in the News?
I will sometimes bring current newspapers into the classroom even in the students’ mother language! I let the students rummage through the articles and find one that appeals to them. Then they have 3 minutes to read the article and prepare language in English that will help them to paraphrase the most important parts of the article. They then share the articles in small groups of 4. The success criteria for the task is presented like this:
- Read your article
- Research any words that you don’t know that are essential to the gist of the story
- Make some short notes
- Turn your article face down
- Tell your group about your article
This activity always produces a ton of highly relevant language of the times. Hot expressions and technical terminology come up that might not otherwise arise. Examples from my own personal history of doing this activity include: collapse, real estate, grope, a vetting, to be re-instated, and a hoax just to name a few.
Ted Talks, for those who may not know, are very popular speeches given on the topics of Technology, Education and Design in theory but in practice they can consist of a much broader range of issues from standing up for yourself and how to break a habit to the importance of making your bed. There have been Ted Talks on an amazing range of topics and ideas. What they all have in common is the fact that they are all highly professional and leave the audience usually doing one or both of 2 things:
1) think about something in a completely new way
2) feel a kind of call to action – a need to rethink their behavior and change themselves somehow for the better
I will often use them in my lessons by creating gap-fills listening activities or just writing a series of comprehension questions for the talk. Another great idea is to have the students themselves write questions for other students as they listen to the talk.
Follow-up discussions almost inevitably ensue because the nature of the talks lends itself very nicely to broader discussion with possibilities for introducing interesting language.
Students Teach the Lesson: English Songs
This is usually my last lesson of the semester and requires a lot of prep and instructions beforehand so that students understand precisely what needs to happen.
The students take turns teaching the lesson and the basis of their lesson is their current favourite English language song. Students are told that they need to prepare some kind of a task for their learners to complete and their students have to leave the lesson with some new vocabulary or some awareness of a new grammar construction.
Students are reminded of activities we may have done throughout the school year such as gap-fills, multiple choice clozes, scrambled sentences, prediction games etc. and they create one using the lyrics of their favourite song. There can also be a follow-up discussion of the lyrics and comprehension questions to see if the song was truly understood.
There you have 3 great ways to use pop culture and current events and ideas to bring a bit more relevance to your lessons or language learning from a student’s perspective. Hope you found them useful and will give them a try. Do you have any more great ideas? Share them in the comment section below.