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How to Write Effective Classroom Materials

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I was just thinking of this webinar, which I used to refer to quite frequently, and discovered I had lost the link to it. So I’m putting this up for my benefit, as much as for yours.

This is a wonderful webinar by Rachael Roberts on How to write effective classroom materials. It covers the key features a good classroom activity should have, including the choice of language focus, task types, and content. Well-worth your time and the site includes links to handouts, follow-up questions, and other lovely resources!

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Mother Teresa and Ice Hotels: Overdone Textbook Topics

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We writers work hard to come up with topics that are interesting to readers, but we are severely limited by PARSNIPS and in some cases our own laziness. I caught myself the other day putting an Ice Hotel into a lesson plan. When I googled Ice Hotel for some factual information, I found more examples of textbooks than actual descriptions of actual hotels!

So I’ve been enjoying putting together a list of topics I am tired of reading about in ELT textbooks. Some of these are clearly fictional and yet somehow they still end up in half the ELT textbooks I see.

Feel free to add your own in the comments.

– The Burj al-Arab hotel
– The Ice Hotel (I’m told there’s actually a ban on this for some publishers)
– The International Space Station
– anyone who quit their job to travel around the world
– anyone who collects weird things like puppy figurines or celebrity ear wax
– Mother Teresa
– Michael Jackson
– that guy who invented the Internet
– the cleaning lady who lived frugally and saved every penny and left a million dollars to a university when she died.
– kids still living with their parents.

Instant Personalized Writing Prompt

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  1. Students go to what3words and type in their address. Yes, it’s international, so all of your students can do it, although in some cases, they may need to search for their town and then find their homes.
  2. Students find the three words that represent their house. Because each 3 meter square region has its own three words, they will likely have some choice.
  3. Students write a story or essay or letter or Facebook update or whatever you want to make them do using those three words.
  4. Or give the students the same three words and see who can write the best story.

You’re welcome!

Classroom Posters for the First Day of Class

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These are my two favorite classroom posters. They provide great first day of school activities to help students get to know each other. What’s even better is that the bonding and team building goes beyond the first day. All by themselves, students start congregating around these posters to chat and talk about themselves.

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The first poster invites students to share some words in their own language. By letting students bring their own language and identity in the classroom, you’re showing that you know they are more than the sum of what they can express in English and that learning English doesn’t mean forgetting their past. One of the big surprises with using this poster is how fast students start teaching each other words using English as their medium, of course. They start demanding to know things in English so they can translate into their own language! Furthermore, students start thinking about register, tone, difficulties of translating, pragmatics, and social context. Breaks and time before or after class will always find a student staring at this poster.

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The second poster is a simple world map and I love this one I found with all the flags on it. A simple day one activity is to have students label their country with their name. Then have them look at the map and their classmates’ countries of origin. Get them to form at least one question about one other student’s country, such as what do you eat there, what is the weather like, why is your flag like that. Students find the person they want to ask and briefly share information about their home countries. This is another one that gets students hanging out during breaks, studying who is from where and discussing their countries of origin.

 

Both posters are for sale in my Teachers Pay Teachers store in multiple sizes: 24 x 36, A2, legal, and letter. Purchase and download the In Your Own Words Poster and the World Flags Map Poster.

Clue by Clue Murder of a Millionaire

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Clue by Clue: Murder of a Millionaire is one of my favorite mystery activities. An original, Agatha Christie-style murder, Murder of a Millionaire has students going through 22 clues to try to figure out who killed a buisnessman at his country estate in the middle of the night. His wife, who found out he was cheating on her? The secretive maid? His own buisiness partner? Students are given all the clues to figure it out.

Clue by Clues are fun mystery games I came up with to share my love of solving mysteries with my classes. Students work in small groups to solve a puzzle. The catch is that they are given each clue one at a time. This slows down the mystery solving process, meaning students spend more time discussing each clue and revising their theories. That means more time using critical thinking skills. It also means more talking time as students discuss the importance of each clue, reevaluate their previous ideas, and try to persuade others of their point of view.

Each Clue by Clue is solvable and the clues are carefully written to lead students down the path to the answer by eliminating alternative theories. There are also hint questions that teachers can give to students.

Clue by Clues make great warm-up activities, fillers, or time killers for those last minutes of class and early finishers. They can be critical reading activities that teach students to read closely for details, synthesize information from different sources, apply prior knowledge about the world, and to recognize the logic of a claim and evaluate its validity.

They are also a lot of fun!

While students are solving the mysteries they are also developing their spoken language skills, such as:
* Modal verbs of speculation: She must have forgotten her keys, It could have been the butler
* Opinion language: I think…., I’m positive…, I’m not sure…
* Hedging: It’s possible, probably, maybe, it’s not impossible.
* Conclusions: That means that…
* Emphasis: There’s no way that…
* Hypotheticals: What if he didn’t do it, If he was at the movies, he couldn’t have done it.

You can download and purchase Clue by Clue: Murder of a Millionaire at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. And check out my ever-growing section of mystery activities and lesson plans for other classroom resources!

Clue by Clue Mystery Bundle

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This bundle contains 6 of my Clue by Clue Mystery Activities. What is a Clue by Clue Mystery? It’s a great warm-up, filler, or time killer for early finishers. Students are given a mystery to solve–whodunit or how did they do it or why. They have to figure it out by reading a series of clues, one at a time. As they receive each clue, they speculate on its significance and what it tells them about the situation.

Once they have received all the clues, they should have enough information to figure it out!

Clue by Clues make great warm-up activities, fillers, or time killers for those last minutes of class and early finishers. They can be critical reading activities that teach students to read closely for details, synthesize information from different sources, apply prior knowledge about the world, and to recognize the logic of a claim and evaluate its validity.

They are also a lot of fun!

While students are solving the mysteries they are also developing their spoken language skills, such as:
* Modal verbs of speculation: She must have forgotten her keys, It could have been the butler
* Opinion language: I think…., I’m positive…, I’m not sure…
* Hedging: It’s possible, probably, maybe, it’s not impossible.
* Conclusions: That means that…
* Emphasis: There’s no way that…
* Hypotheticals: What if he didn’t do it, If he was at the movies, he couldn’t have done it.

Teacher Notes are included with hints and the solution along with a students sheet that contains the clues for you to copy and cut-up.

The activities included (with previews for each one) are:
The Elevator Routine

Imprisoned!

Guess the Motive

Murder of a Millionaire

Empty Bank

The Perfect Crime

And the Reading a Mystery Organizer Worksheet

And check out my ever-growing section of mystery activities and lesson plans for other classroom resources!